By By Fort Rucker Office of the Staff Judge Advocate May 9, 2014
Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh fully established a special victim's advocacy program Nov. 1, that entitles victims of sexual assault to legal representation from the moment the victim reports the crime through the conclusion of all legal proceedings against the alleged perpetrator.
This program is available to Soldiers, adult dependents of Soldiers or other qualifying sexual assault victims who are affiliated with the military when the alleged perpetrator is a Soldier.
Immediately after victims report that have been sexually assaulted, they may choose to have a special victim counsel, or SVC, assigned as their representative. SVCs are legal assistance attorneys (normally captains) with demonstrated experience, maturity and judgment.
Because the SVC represents the victim's interests the SVC and victim maintain an attorney-client relationship. This means all communications between the victim and SVC remain confidential unless the victim permits the SVC to reveal information in an effort to achieve the victim's goals related to the prosecution of the alleged perpetrator.
The specially trained SVC will guide a sexual assault victim through the various aspects of the legal process against the alleged perpetrator. For example, after a victim makes an allegation of sexual assault, the SVC may accompany the victim to interviews with criminal investigators.
The SVC may represent the victim's interests at pre-trial hearings, advocate for the victim when government prosecutors and commanders are deciding whether to move forward with a case and protect the victim's rights during the court-martial itself. If the perpetrator is convicted and sentenced at court-martial, as part of the post-trial process, the convicted Soldier may later request a reduced sentence from the commanding general who convened the court-martial.
Before deciding whether to grant such a request however, the SVC may help the victim submit a victim-impact statement expressing the victim's preferences regarding the convicted Soldier's request for leniency.
Aside from providing support during the legal proceedings, as a legal assistance attorney the SVC is available to provide the victim with a broad range of legal assistance services. For example, if a Soldier sexually assaults a dependent spouse the victim may need legal assistance regarding separation, divorce proceedings, child custody or child support.
The SVC can advise the victim about each of those matters and recommend whether the victim should seek the services of a civilian attorney. Special victim counsels may also connect victims with various resources on the installation, such as Army Community Service or the health clinic.
The establishment of the special victim's advocacy program represents a significant increase in the rights of victims and their participation in the Army's criminal justice process. They will ensure that victims understand the process, the victim's best interests are always represented and victims are treated with fairness, dignity and respect.