By 2nd Lt. Jason Gabrick
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
The Special Victims’ Counsel Program, which launched Jan. 28, is empowering victims of sexual assault by removing barriers to their full participation in the military justice process.
Attorneys within the program, called Special Victims’ Counsel, are tasked with advocating for victims, protecting the rights they’re afforded and helping them to better understand the investigatory process and the military justice system.
In November of 2012, 60 Judge Advocates were selected by the Judge Advocate General of the Air Force to serve as SVCs. These selectees were chosen based on litigation experience, experience with sexual assault cases and the ability to handle complex and sensitive issues.
Capt. Lorraine Sult, chief of civil law for the 50th Space Wing Legal office, is among the 60 selected for the program.
“We received three days of training at the Air Force Judge Advocate General School at Maxwell AFB in December of 2012, and then in January we began receiving assignments to victims,” said Sult. “I was really excited about this new program, especially after attending the training, because it is an excellent way to help victims who typically know very little about the military justice process, and explain what the process is like, what to expect and also to be there to answer any other questions they may have.”
What sets the SVC program apart is the unique nature of special legal counsel. Prosecutors are unable to enter into confidential attorney-client relationships with victims, so they are unable to provide specific legal advice or answer some of the important questions victims have in confidence.
Sult said by having an SVC, clients have an attorney who they can talk to in confidence and who can provide legal advice.
“Having prosecuted cases, I know that victims can sometimes feel lost in the system, especially when it comes to their own privacy rights,” said Sult. “This program is a way to protect their rights and really impact their experience with the military justice process in a positive way.”
Sult has been assigned a total of six clients so far and currently has five active cases. She’s been to one general court-martial and one Article 32 hearing.
“My clients are all at different stages of the process, but the overall feeling I get from them is they are appreciative of having one attorney who is there solely for them,” said Sult. “My clients ask me what the status of their case is, how their case moves forward, who makes that decision, what they can expect as the case progresses and what they should expect during interviews with prosecution or defense.”
SVCs attend interviews with victims and clarify why certain questions have been asked. They also assert victims’ privacy rights when needed. The Military Rules of Evidence provide certain privacy rights to victims, specifically with regard to sexual predisposition, past sexual history, mental health records and victim-advocate privilege.
Currently, SVCs work in this role in addition to their duties in a base legal office. SVCs have two separate chains of command, their base chain of command and their SVC chain of command.
“My top priority is to represent my clients and handle whatever concerns or issues arise in their cases, but if I am not working on SVC duties, then I also have my work in the legal office,” said Sult. “We don’t represent victims from our own base because of the potential conflict of interest.”
The Schriever Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, Paula Krause, sees the SVC program as vital.
“The Air Force needs this program. Victims absolutely require counsel and the Special Victims’ Counsel program gives them a resource and the information they need to successfully navigate these difficult processes,” said Krause.
As of March, there have been 208 requests for SVCs in the Air Force since January.