SURVIVOR LEGAL NEWS #3
Military Sexual Violence
This blog is dedicated to the brave survivors of intimate partner violence, sexual abuse, childhood trauma and human trafficking. We will be covering legal news concerning victim’s rights and remedies.
Military sexual violence is when a member of any branch of the armed services (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, or National Guard) who is active duty or reserved (not engaged in full-time active-duty service) sexually assaults, or sexually harasses either a fellow member of the armed services, the Department of Defense civilian employee, or civilian.
Public awareness has been heightened about the impact of sexual violence on survivors with the advent of the #MeToo movement. Just like the stories we have heard about the dynamics of sexual violence in the entertainment and business industries, the perpetrators often have and exploit much higher levels of influence, control, and actual command over their victims.
One of the unique and particularly troubling aspects of sexual violence in the military is that the perpetrator and the victim not only often work together, but also live in very close proximity to each other on the same base, in the same unit, in the same barracks, or on the same ship. Furthermore, the culture of the military promotes and requires trust in and between its members. The job functions literally require life or death decision-making and enduring commitment to “no man left behind”. Accordingly, sexual assault committed by service members are a shocking violation of trust from the survivor’s perspective. Fear and distrust compound the sense of betrayal because the command structure, that is in place to ensure good order and discipline, is in the same command structure that is tasked with investigating and prosecuting crime. This double duty of the commander can create a true conflict of interest on many levels.
National Sexual Violence Resource Center. 2012. Sexual violence in the military; a guide for civilian advocates
Department of Defense. 2018. Department of Defense annual report on sexual assault in the military
Special Victims Counsel (SVC)/ Victims’ Legal Counsel
Starting in 2012, the Air Force led the military in establishing the Special Victims Counsel (SVC) program. In August 2013, then Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel ordered the secretaries of all branches to establish similar victims counsel. This program is called the Victims legal counsel (VLC) in the Navy and the Marine Corp and SVC in the Air Force and the Army. The role of the SVC/ VLC programs is to represent the victim in court-martial proceedings and to enforce the rights provided to victims of sexual assault and is that as of 2019 domestic violence.
The right to independent counsel to advocate for the victim is further affirmed under the case law established in LRM v. Katzenberg 72 MJ 364 2013. In Katzenberg the military’s highest court, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces held that a victim’s right to be heard induces the right to be heard through counsel.
Reporting a sexual assault: A Survivors options
A military victim, dependence of a military member, and the DoD employees have two options for reporting a sexual assault.
A restricted report enables the victim to access services such as medical care and legal resources without a formal investigation being initiated. Only certain individuals are privy to restrict reports such as an SBC/VLC, sexual assault response coordinator (SARC) or medical providers. Legal authorities and the chain of command will not be provided details of the report, such as the name of the victim or the perpetrator but evidence such as a rape kit can have preserved for later use
An unrestricted report can be made to law enforcement, the chain of command, or a supervisor. By law, an unrestricted report must be investigated by military investigators. Generally, civil civilian victims may only file an unrestricted report. Military victims who file an unrestricted report also have access to the same victim services that are available to those who file restricted reports including access to counseling, a victims’ advocate and an SVC/VLC. If the survivor chooses to go forward with the unrestricted reporting option, a branch specific investigative unit will begin an investigation into allegations. Throughout the investigation process, an SVC/VLC and or civilian counsel are critical to ensuring that a victim’s rights are being upheld.
The main source of the information in this blog is from Protect Our Defenders (POD), which is the only national organization solely dedicated to ending the epidemic of rape and sexual; assault in the military and to combating a culture of pervasive misogyny, sexual harassment and retribution against victims https://www.protectourdefenders.com/
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs- Military Sexual Violence
DAV – Military Sexual Trauma
National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800. 799. 7233, or by online chat.
National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.4673, or by online chat.
National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 888.373.7888, or by text line
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Additional Resources for survivors
I am an active member of the National Crime Victim Bar Association. My professional experience began as a Registered Nurse in the Intensive Care Unit at Yale New Haven Hospital. While pursuing my Bachelor’s Degree, I was a counselor with the New Haven Rape Crisis Program, which was located in the Yale New Haven Hospital Emergency Department. I had the privilege of counseling sexual assault survivors and performed seminars for local police departments, universities, and high schools. My work with the Rape Crisis program led me to attend law school. During the course of my career, I have acted as Pro Bono Counsel for Rape Crisis Programs and have practiced law in several different State and Federal Courts. I am a member of the Palm Beach County Sober Home Task Force and Pro Bono Counsel for the Florida Association of Recovery Residences.
I am also a survivor.