Victims of sexual assault have new legal counsel

| January 31, 2014 | 0 Comments


Capt. R. Christopher Walton
Consolidated Legal Center
U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii

In June, the Chief of Staff of the Army identified the Army’s number one priority as combating sexual assault and harassment within the ranks.

Sexual assault cuts to the core of its victims, challenging their previously held notions of security, self worth, confidence and emotional stability.

In the Army, the crime does not only forever alter a Soldier’s life, but it divides units and lessens their combat readiness.

The military justice system is often confusing and intimidating to victims; they’re frequently left on the outside looking in, without a voice to protect their interests. However, all that is changing with the debut of the new program.

Nov. 1, 2013, the Army launched its new Special Victim Counsel (SVC) program, which provides Army attorneys (judge advocates) to represent victims of sexual assault when requested. Each judge advocate, specially trained in the legal rights of victims of sexual assault, will act as a guide and a voice for victims during the investigation and military justice process.

The mission of the SVC is to act as an advocate and counselor for the victim, to include advocating for the victim’s desired outcome. SVCs are knowledgeable about military justice, including courts-martial, and can play a critical role by informing and preparing victims to cope with the process that follows a report of sexual assault.

The SVC is the victim’s representative in interactions with investigators, trial counsel (prosecutors), defense counsel and others involved in the military justice system. The SVC is committed only to the interests of the victim, providing a valuable resource during a difficult time.

“The goal of the SVC program is to provide victims of sexual assault with a dedicated attorney to advocate for their interests throughout the military justice process,” said Capt. Sean Mahoney, one of Hawaii’s first SVCs. “Once a report is made, the gears of the military justice system begin turning with the government — not the victim — making decisions regarding appropriate actions to be taken against offenders. The SVC’s role is to advise and advocate for a victim in a way that has not been possible up until now.”

SVCs are currently engaged in hundreds of cases across the country and overseas. They accompany their clients during initial investigative interviews with the police, they’re guarding their client’s rights at pretrial hearings, they’re arguing important evidentiary motions in court and helping prepare their clients to be persuasive witnesses.

Depending on the desires of their client, an SVC may simply serve as an advisor to a victim who does not wish to press charges, but SVCs are prepared to attend every interview, hearing and stage of trial during the courts-martial process. Most importantly, SVCs are dedicated to achieve the program’s goal of pursuing the best outcome for each victim.

Any adult who is eligible for legal assistance through the military when the crime is perpetrated is eligible for an SVC. Essentially, this fact means eligibility applies to any Soldier, any adult dependent of a Soldier and any career retiree. At this time, the Army has not extended SVC services to children.

Currently, three Army SVCs are in the state of Hawaii and all are located on Schofield Barracks.

Army medical personnel, criminal investigators, victim advocates and Sexual Assault Response Coordinators have been directed to notify victims of their right to an SVC.

(Editor’s note: Walton is a Judge Advocate SVC.)

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Category: News, Staff Judge Advocate (SJA)

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