by Senior Airman Jason J. Brown
633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
7/10/2013 - LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. -- In
continuing the war against sexual assault, the Air Force recently
established the Special Victims' Counsel (SVC) Program, designed to give
sexual assault survivors legal assistance in navigating the criminal
justice system with help from lawyers trained to handle their unique
The SVCs provide direct legal advice to clients throughout the military
justice process, and ensure the clients' rights are being observed and
protected by advocating on their behalf both inside and outside of the
courtroom. Ultimately, SVCs aim to encourage survivors of sexual assault
to seek assistance from military legal professionals.
Survivors of sexual violence can take advantage of SVC counseling upon
making a report to the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC),
victim advocate, military criminal investigator, victim/witness liaison
or legal office attorney. These base agencies are obligated to inform
the survivor of the availability of legal assistance from the SVC.
When the SVC office is notified by one of these agencies that a survivor
requests support, the office determines the victim's eligibility and
assigns a specially-trained attorney to provide counsel.
"While we understand there are a variety of circumstances that lead an
individual to report a sexual assault, such as talking to a first
sergeant, supervisor, co-worker, friend or spouse, the main goal is to
get the victim the support they need and allow them the opportunity to
seek legal guidance from an SVC," said Tech. Sgt. Alan Salmones, a
paralegal from the Andrews Region SVC, which supports survivors from
Langley Air Force Base, Va.
Capt. Dustin Kouba, an Andrews Region SVC attorney, said that even if a
survivor wishes to make, or has made, a restricted report, they remain
eligible for SVC support. Restricted reports of sexual assault can be
made through the SARC or the victim's primary care manager.
Air Force attorneys, like any other attorney, owe ethical duties and
privileges of confidentiality to their clients. These duties come
directly from state bar rules of professional conduct and the Air Force
Rules of Professional Conduct, and encourage clients to make "full and
frank" disclosures to their attorneys, who are then better able to
provide candid advice and effective representation, Kouba explained.
"Our office, like the [Area Defense Counsel], is completely independent
of the command and base legal office. We are not bound by the chain of
command's practices or reporting procedures," Kouba said. "SVCs advocate
the interests of their clients, not of the Air Force."
In the near future, Kouba said perspective clients will be allowed to
contact the SVC office directly without making a report. Subsequent
meetings are covered by the same ethical rules and confidentiality
agreements as reports, guaranteeing survivor confidentiality even if
they ultimately decide not to use the program.
Though the SVC attorneys are not located at each installation, they
remain flexible in providing counsel to clients. In instances where an
SVC cannot meet with the client face to face, telephone correspondence
will be the main source of contact.
"SVCs will always travel to Article 32 hearings and courts-martial, and
will attend interviews if feasible. If they cannot attend, every attempt
will be made to have the SVC available via telephone and advise their
client appropriately," Salmones explained. "Overall, the SVC is there to
advise their client whenever the client has questions and needs legal
Counseling is available to all Air Force active duty, reserve, and Air
National Guard victims who are in Title 10 status at the time of the
offense and report they are a victim of sexual assault.
Additionally, all active duty and reserve members of the Army, Navy,
Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, including Army National Guard personnel
in Title 10 status at the time of the offense and report that they are a
survivor of sexual assault, are eligible for SVC counseling when an Air
Force commander exercises jurisdiction, or when the perpetrator is an
Air Force member.
All remaining categories of eligibility for the SVC program fall under
Air Force Instruction 51-504, Legal Assistance, Notary, and Preventative
Law Programs, which governs who is eligible for legal assistance
depending on their location and circumstance.
"It takes a strong team to succeed in our mission to protect and defend
the nation, and sexual assault undermines that," said Air Force Chief of
Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III when announcing the launch of the program
in January. "It's devastating to those involved. The Special Victims'
Counsel will provide victims of sexual assault with a better
understanding of the criminal process from an expert who is specially
qualified to represent the victim."
"This program embodies what the Air Force is all about: taking care of our people," the general said.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Rich Lamance of the Air Force News Service contributed to this report.