VICENZA, Italy -- During criminal proceedings in a courtroom, the defendant has a lawyer. The government is also represented by its own lawyer, the prosecuting attorney. Historically, however, victims of sexual assault have not had the benefit of a government-provided advocate as they are interviewed, as they testify on the witness stand, and as they move through the other complexities of the criminal justice system.

This is no longer the case. Since the establishment of a special program in 2013, many victims of sexual assault have the option to have legal representation.

The U.S. Army established the Special Victims' Counsel Program, designed to provide victims of sexual assault an independent attorney to represent the victim's interests.

An SVC is an active-duty Army attorney, provided at no charge to the victim. The SVC will represent the victim throughout the course of any investigation and legal proceedings that might follow the report of a sexual assault. This service is available to any Soldier who has been the victim of a sexual assault while on active duty. It is also available to many adult and child victims of sexual assault when a Soldier perpetrates the crime; in those cases, the victim is eligible for legal assistance services. In addition, the service is available regardless of what type of report the victim files-- restricted or unrestricted.

As soon as a sexual assault is reported and the victim meets with a victim advocate, victim-witness liaison, or a Special Agent with the U.S. Army Criminal Investigative Division, the victim is notified that he or she has a right to an SVC. While the prosecutor represents the interests of the government and society, it is a misconception that the prosecuting attorney in a criminal case represents the victim of a crime. In many cases, the governmental interests are the same as the victim's: to see that justice is done. However, there are cases where the victim's interests and the government's interest do not align and the victim may desire a course of action different from the one the prosecutor recommends.

An SVC can empower the victim, serving as the voice of the victim, both in and out of the courtroom. All SVCs have attorney-client confidentiality with their clients, meaning the victim can speak openly about the case without fear that what he or she says will be repeated. The SVC can answer questions the victim may have about the military justice process which, in turn, can help the victim make an informed decision regarding whether or not to make a case unrestricted.

The SVC is also able to make and argue motions on behalf of the victim and talk to the Special Victim Prosecutor, trial counsel, defense counsel, staff judge advocate, and the command to advocate for the victim's interests in the case.

To find out more about the SVC Program, contact your local legal assistance office. If you are a victim of sexual assault and want to speak with an SVC, the Vicenza Legal Assistance Office can assist. For more information, contact the Vicenza Legal Assistance Office at DSN 637-8832, comm. 0444-61-8832.