Air Force Deploys Special Victims' Counsel in Sex-Abuse Cases
A new kind of military lawyer is being deployed to work with victims of sexual assault: Special Victims Counsel, who are part of a Department of Defense pilot program within the Air Force.
With the military coming under increased scrutiny for its handling of sexual assaultthe subject of a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesdaythe idea of the SVC is to encourage more reporting of those crimes, according to Mondays story on NPR. Recently Lt. Gen. Richard Harding addressed a class of JAG officers at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama on how daunting it is for victims to bring charges in court:
The SVCs are attorneys who do not represent the defendant, and they don't represent the governmentthey will stand up for the victims. Harding tells the audience that they can help address the agony many assault victims associate with the court-martial process.
We know 85 percent of our victims don't report, he says. Maybe if they understood the value of an SVC, some of them might feel a little bit more comfortable about reporting.
The program launched in January, and SVCs have handled about 300 cases so far, which can range from unprofessional relationships in a sort of basic military trainee context, to very serious traumatic assaults, Capt. Aaron Kirk, one of the lawyers, told NPR.
The Air Force reports that it's already seen a difference in one kind of reporting pattern since the start of the program, according to its military news site.
Assault victims can choose whether to file a restricted report or an unrestricted reportthe latter of which allows the government to investigate and potentially prosecute the accused. Among the 300 or so victims whove had SVC representation, 22 initially filed restricted reports, 12 of whom changed those to unrestricted reports.
Thats a 55 percent conversion rate to date, compared to a 13 percent restricted-to-unrestricted conversion rate in fiscal year 2011, said Capt. Allison DeVito, chief of the Air Forces victim issues and policy branch.
Air Force general counsel Charles Blanchard said that those results have exceeded our expectations for the SVC initiative.
Last month, Blanchard also took to the Air Force General Counsel blog to solicit comments on how the military could reduce sexual assault, asking readers whether they thought the Special Victims Counsel program should be expanded, and what kind of prevention programs worked well.