AF Special Victims' Counsel provides legal assistance, support
By Staff Sgt. Leslie Keopka, 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published April 03, 2015
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany (AFNS) -- If a sexual assault happens, it is crucial for individuals to know who they can turn to, where they can go and what help is available to them.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. The month focuses on ensuring Airmen and families are aware of the resources available to aid in the prevention of sexual assault and the different types of reporting procedures available.
The Air Force Special Victims' Counsel (SVC) is one of the many resources members can use for legal advice and independent legal representation.
"We function just like attorneys in the civilian world," said Capt. Jessica Jacquay, an Air Force SVC attorney. "We have a lawyer-client relationship; it is completely confidential. We only answer to (the victim), essentially."
The Air Force initiated this program in 2013 to help combat sexual assault and give victims a voice in the military justice system. The purpose of the program is to provide advocacy, advice and empower victims by removing barriers to their participation in the process. The SVC attorneys report directly to the Air Force Legal Operations Agency, keeping them out of the local chains of command and base legal office.
"A lot of the fear victims face is the uncertainty of what is going to happen next," said Tech. Sgt. Anna Nakamoto, an SVC paralegal. "We are here if they have questions. They can talk to us, and we have the capability to keep reports restricted. After they speak with us and see what their options are, then they can make the best decision going forward."
To better assist sexual assault victims, attorneys selected for this position go through extensive training, to include attending the Special Victims' Investigation Course at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. In this course, they learn how sexual assaults are investigated, helping them to better understand the process.
Paralegals assigned to the SVC learn about trauma and neurobiological reaction to trauma. They also learn how to communicate with victims when doing initial intakes, what type of questions to ask and how to interact with them.
"The SVC is helping to give victims the power back," Nakamoto said. "We want people to know we are here to help. A choice has been taken away from them and we help to give them their choice back."
All active-duty military members, regardless of who the perpetrator is, are eligible to use the SVC. Adult and minor dependents are also eligible for SVC services when the assault has a military connection.
"I spoke with a young woman who didn't know if she wanted to report her assault or who to turn to," Jacquay said. "She said, 'I just want to tell someone my whole story and know it's confidential and get advice on what to do.' We can provide that advice, even if they aren't necessarily eligible for our services in the long run. We can do that for anyone that walks in; we can listen and give advice confidentially. I was able to do that for her and she decided to go forward with the reporting."
The assigned attorney is with the victim throughout the interviews, hearings and courts-martial to provide them with the legal advice and support they need.