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Army providing lawyers in alleged sex assault cases

Nov. 16, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
A teal ribbon is used to promote awareness of sexual assault.
A teal ribbon is used to promote awareness of sexual assault. ()
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The Army is providing military lawyers to soldiers and family members who are alleged victims of sexual assault.

The Army has 53 active-duty lawyers trained as “special victim counsels,” said Col. Jay McKee, the program manager for the Special Victims Counsel Program, based at the Pentagon.

If the victim requests one, the lawyer will work with the alleged victim to aid in understanding the legal proceedings in the case and represent the victim during a court-martial, McKee said.

The Army started the program Nov. 1, and it is expected to be fully operational by Jan. 1.

The SVCs work exclusively for the victims, not the Army or other government organization, according to SVC guidance.

“We want that victim to believe that justice was done and that her or his concerns were heard and they were acted upon and that her interests or his interests were fully taken into consideration and advocated,” McKee said.

“If they are a victim of sexual assault, they have a right to an attorney,” McKee said. “Nobody can tell them they can’t have one; not [Criminal Investigation Command agents], not the trial counsel, not anybody in the government, not their commander, not their first sergeant.”

SVCs are Army lawyers who have also received training on how to be sensitive to the concerns of sexual assault victims. They get the training during a three-day Special Victim Advocate Course, McKee said.

The SVCs can represent victims at courts-martial, go with them to hearings and examinations, and advise them in their case. They can address the court, make a motion, file a brief and question witnesses, McKee said.

“Army judges have already incorporated into the rules for court ... the ability for these attorneys to practice, make motions [and] be heard in the court,” McKee said.

SVCs are available for all active duty, Guard and Reserve soldiers who are victims of sexual assault and who request counsel. SVCs are also available for dependent family members. The SVCs do not represent minors, McKee said.

Initial training recruits who had an “unprofessional relationship” that involved “physical contact of a sexual nature” with training staff or instructors are eligible to receive an SVC, according to draft guidance provided to Army Times.

Most SVCs are located at larger posts. There is also one in Kuwait and one in Afghanistan, McKee said. The Army National Guard has 14, and the Army Reserve has three.

SVCs can advise victims over the phone, but if a victim wants to meet face to face with an SVC, the lawyer will travel to meet with that person, McKee said.

Once the program is fully operational, every Army CID agent, victims’ advocate, sexual assault response coordinator and military hospital should have a form to hand out to alleged victims that tells them about their right to an SVC.

Until then, victims advocates should tell sexual assault victims that an SVC is available to represent them. Victims can also contact their local staff judge advocate office and ask to speak to the chief of legal assistance and request an SVC, McKee said.

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