New counselors help victims of sexual assault
November 27, 2013
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (November 27, 2013) -- Eliminating sexual assault from the armed forces remains one of the military's top priorities -- an effort that requires absolute and sustained commitment to providing a safe environment where every service member and civilian is free from the threat of sexual harassment and assault.
And to help victims understand the military justice system and their rights and benefits, the Army has created a new service for them -- the special victim counsel service.
The 1st Aviation Brigade held an installation-wide Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program forum Nov. 21 to educate unit victim advocates about the special victim counsel program.
"Once a month, we try to bring in all the victim advocates in the brigade and across the installation. We usually have a guest speaker of some sort come in and speak to us on important topics," said Sgt. 1st Class Gerald Emery, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Aviation Brigade. "They talk to us on what their roles and responsibilities are within the SHARP program, and how it relates to what we do to make sure we are all tied together and educated properly.
"We have to stay current on information, and the most important thing is to make sure our advocates know the procedures if they receive a case," continued Emery. "By doing these meetings we keep them abreast with everything that is going on within these programs."
At the Nov. 21 meeting, advocates learned about the purpose of the special victim counsel program that they are going to have to explain to the victims that come to them.
"The victim advocates are the ones who deal with the victim first, so they need to know all the services offered to victims, as well as victim rights," said Capt. Edwin Caban Jr., Fort Rucker's special victim counselor. "It is my job to make sure the victim knows the whole military justice process if they decide to take it to court, as well as the (services) they could receive."
Caban said that the JAG office wants all victims to know that they are here to help and are happy to explain why things are done the way they are done.
"The reason I believe the Army is receiving complaints about the system is because people do not understand the system, and that is where counselors like myself come in," he said. "We want victims to understand all aspects of what will happen and is happening with their case so they know there is justice."
Caban spoke on sensitive issues, such as victim image, political propaganda, Family and unit support, and investigation. He also spoke about the levels and types of prosecution, and scope of services.
According to the office of the staff judge advocate, the SVC may provide the following services to victims: Accompany and advise client during interviews, examinations, hearing and court-martial proceedings; Represent client in court-martial, as permitted by law; Referral to Trial Defense Service for collateral misconduct, if necessary; Advocate client's interest with government counsel on disposition options; Assist client with post-trial submission to include victim impact statements; Advise client on collateral civil issues arising from the crime; and Legal assistance services.
Though he believes the culture on Fort Rucker is a healthy one, Emery believes improvement can still be made with the changing Army culture.
"We go after and we try to prosecute offenders, and we have done a really good job in making sure we go through the right channels and the legal proceedings. We are there doing these types of events to make sure we are meeting the victims' needs," he said.
"The culture is starting to change around the Army as a whole," he continued. "You can see it across all the formations on the installations. People are more aware of their behavior, and others are more aware of others' behavior and speak up when they see something inappropriate.
"When you see young Soldiers beginning to (speak up), that's when you know you are starting to turn a corner. This training is beginning to work -- you can see it when you see Soldiers correcting other Soldiers when inappropriate things are said or done. And it always starts with the lowest level and goes up. That is where the culture change we want to see happen take root," Emery said.