In a continued effort to minimize sexual harassment and assault in the military, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel directed the implementation of a legal advocacy program in each service that will provide victims with additional rights, protections and legal support.
In response, The Army’s judge advocate general is launching the Special Victims Advocate Program, or SVAP, that will provide a legal assistance attorney to assist qualifying victims of sexual assault throughout the investigation and judicial process, beginning Nov. 1. The Office of the Staff Judge Advocate at Fort Huachuca will have two trained special victim advocates, or SVAs.
Capt. Sam Silerio, a certified SVA, explained that a key benefit of the program is the empowerment victims will feel knowing they have their own attorney advocating for them and supporting them from pre-reporting, through the investigation, and even beyond any court martial process. “This new program is definitely groundbreaking for us because victims will now have the option to have their SVA with them whenever they are questioned by the military police or the Criminal Investigation Division, and the SVA may be present at any judicial hearings or courts-martial proceedings as well,” Silerio said.
The SVAP also provides another avenue for victims of sexual assault to make a restricted report.
Victims can consult with an SVA, share their concerns, and then make an informed decision as to how to proceed. Generally, communications between a victim and a SVA will be protected by attorney-client privilege.
“Now, victims will have their own attorney, advocating solely for his or her best interest,” Silerio explained. “Ultimately, with the advice of counsel, a victim will be better able to determine the best course of action for the victim to take.”
All SVAs will attend training at the Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School, Charlottesville, Va.
Training includes in-depth instruction on interviewing and talking to victims of traumatic events, and instruction on military rules of evidence specifically pertaining to admitting evidence of victims’ pasts. It also includes briefings on the counterintuitive behavior of victims, and scenarios that detail the role of a SVA throughout the judicial process and post trial, while maintaining an interpersonal and empathetic relationship.
In its initial phase, the program has an expected initial operational capability date of Nov. 1. It should be fully operational Jan. 1, 2014.
“Issues that we foresee include the possible overlap in duties between the victim witness liaisons, the unit victim advocates, sexual assault response coordinators, and now the special victim advocates. Once that process is streamlined, and we coordinate our efforts, it will be a great program and resource for victims,” said Silerio.
Qualifying victims who are eligible to receive special victims advocate services include active duty military personnel, dependants, retired military personnel and retired military dependants. Services are not available to those 17 and under. Services are also not available to civilians who otherwise would not be eligible to receive military legal assistance services.
To discuss special victims advocate services, visit the Legal Assistance Division of the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate, 2387 Hatfield Road, Building 51102, or call 533.2009 to make an appointment with a SVA.