To ensure sexual assault survivors receive full support after an assault, commanders, leaders, and Soldiers should be aware of the comprehensive legal services the Army provides.
Sexual assault victims may be eligible for legal assistance provided by the Army. Additionally, those same eligible sexual assault survivors can receive support from investigation through any military disciplinary process from a Special Victims’ Counsel.
“SVCs are specially trained to represent clients—not to support the government or the command,” said Lt. Col. Carol Brewer, Chief of the Army’s SVC Program. “An SVC’s mission is to empower victims so that their interests and their voices are heard throughout ... a very complicated process.”
An SVC’s job is to help the victim understand the military justice process and to educate them on their rights, resources, and options; this empowers them to make informed decisions, Brewer said.
SVCs receive special training in the military justice process and receive trauma-informed training to be able to sensitively respond to their client’s needs. During interviews with criminal investigative agencies and law enforcement, sexual assault survivors can request to have an SVC present.
SHARP professionals, such as SARCs and VAs, commanders, NCOs, Criminal Investigation Division staff, and other military professionals who provide support services to sexual assault survivors should brief the victim on their right to be assigned an SVC and facilitate the provision of an SVC to the victim.
“By having well-informed empowered victims, the Army is more likely to be able to hold (offenders) accountable,” Brewer said. “That is critical, not just to our justice system, but to our overall good order and discipline.”
Sexual assault survivors can also directly request an SVC at their installation’s legal services office. Even if they have filed a restricted report, they are eligible to talk to an SVC. For those who have not filed a report, they can discuss their options with an SVC. SVCs will also meet with survivors at another place of their choosing if survivors feel apprehensive about going to the Client Services/Legal Assistance Office. Conversations between SVCs and survivors are confidential and privileged.
Sexual assault cases are evaluated by special victim prosecutors, who have also received extra training on special victim cases. They represent the government and evaluate whether it is appropriate to prosecute a case before a military judge. SVPs are hand selected based on their experience, and thus are entrusted with tough cases to prosecute, such as sexual assault, Brewer said.
“The Army JAG Corps’ policy is that any case involving a sexual assault or Family violence will be reviewed by the special victim prosecutor,” Brewer said.
Depending on the difficulty of the case, the prosecutor will either mentor another counsel prosecuting the case, or handle the case themselves, she said.
If a victim has a concern about a prosecutor, they can reach out to their legal services office or talk to their SVC who can share their concerns with the appropriate authority.
Article 6b in the Uniform Code of Military Justice also grants victims certain additional rights.
“There are specific rules to make sure that victims are treated with fairness and respect throughout the process,” Brewer said.
First and foremost, the victim has a right to be reasonably protected from the alleged assailant; they have a right to receive notice of court proceedings involving their case; and they have the right to not be excluded from any public hearing or proceedings related to their case. Victims also have the right to be heard at the proceedings, including by the judge, as well as the right to confer with the prosecutors representing the government, and share their experiences and express their thoughts on what justice looks like for them, said Brewer. They also have the right to be informed about the conviction, sentencing, imprisonment, and release of the offender.
If a victim is not being provided their rights, an SVC is the victim’s primary advocate.
“The special victims’ counsel can reach out to the military judge, or other person in a position of authority, on behalf of the victim to make sure those rights are respected,” Brewer said. “When the victim’s rights are not being respected, the special victims’ counsel’s job is to step in—whether it’s filing motions in the court, filing complaints with the commander, or coming up through their technical chain of supervision (even up to myself at the program) to reach out and try to help their clients. That is when a special victims’ counsel gets to be their client’s advocate and support that victim.”
SVCs are independent and only answer to their installation’s legal services chain of command, they do not report directly to any other commander on post.
“Having someone whose sole mission is to support you, and who can much more objectively look at the process really can be critical,” said Brewer. “It allows (victims) to focus on healing and telling their truth and their story … They’ll have someone who is totally on their team, who is there rooting for them and supporting them … They’ll have someone on their team who is 100% behind them.”
Survivors may also work with legal assistance attorneys, who help with collateral legal matters. They may also receive support from victim witness liaisons, who help survivors with logistics surrounding travel to and from a court martial and ensure victims receive updates regarding the confinement or release of the perpetrator. Other professionals involved in special cases include special victim paralegals who are enlisted and assist SVPs, and special assault investigators, who work with CID and have special training to investigate sexual assault offenses. For more details on the legal services mentioned see the Army Resilience Directorate’s Special Victims’ Counsel brochure at https://go.usa.gov/xewKq or visit www.jagcnet.army.mil/SVCounsel.