In an effort to help victims and improve the criminal justice response to rape, the Air Force has launched a pilot project to provide legal counsel directly to victims of sexual assault. The Special Victims’ Council Program (SVC) trains Air Force lawyers to advise sexual assault victims and help them navigate the criminal justice system. In an innovative twist, the lawyers play more than an advisory role. In addition to providing legal advice, they will also represent victims through a confidential, attorney-client relationship throughout the investigation and prosecution process, and will have standing in court to represent the interests of their clients.
"We are very excited to be the first large-scale federal program providing victims of sexual assault with attorneys to represent their privacy and legal interests,” says Lt. Gen. Richard C. Harding, The Judge Advocate General of the Air Force. “Victims of sexual assault sadly are often called upon to deal with a number of complex issues, from rape-shield protections to no-contact orders. The men and women who volunteered to serve this great nation deserve the very best and the focus of our program is to give that level of care to our Airmen.”
“Our Special Victims' Counsel (SVC) Program represents the gold standard in victim care. SVCs are experienced trial attorneys who zealously represent their clients, provide confidential legal guidance and help victims avoid feeling like they were re-victimized by the criminal justice process. I believe this program will make a positive and profound difference in victims' lives," Gen. Harding explained.
Gen. Harding and his staff created the SVC with input from civilian advisors, in particular Meg Garvin, the executive director of the National Crime Victim Law Institute. “The SVC program is a tremendous step forward. The system is difficult enough to navigate for professionals; asking survivors to navigate it in the midst of trauma is simply nonsensical. And yet we know that being heard, securing privacy, and reclaiming agency are each critical to recovery from an assault. So, if survivor’s rights are to have meaning and the system is to be just, providing rights to victims and providing attorneys to protect those rights are critical first steps,” says Garvin.
This new approach is being studied closely by the Department of Defense. DoD is using the Air Force Special Victims’ Counsel Program as a pilot which will instruct possible expansion of this capability for victims of sexual assault across the armed forces.
The Air Force is also served by the DoD Safe Helpline, a groundbreaking crisis support service for members of the military community affected by sexual assault. Safe Helpline provides live, one-on-one support, and information to the worldwide DoD community. The service is confidential, anonymous, secure, and available worldwide, 24/7 by click, call (877-995-5247), text or app — providing survivors with the help they need, anytime, anywhere.