By CATRINA FRANCIS
Gold Standard Senior Staff Writer
Alyssa is a Soldier who went out dancing one night with some of her buddies. They returned to the barracks late and started watching a movie together. Alyssa drank a couple beers and fell asleep during the movie. She woke up to a fellow Soldier molesting her in the dark. Alyssa has reported the incident to her victim advocate, but she wants confidential advice to find out what kind of legal process to expect. Who will advise her? Alyssa also understands that law enforcement will want to gather any evidence from the incident. Who will guide her?
Enter the Special Victim Counsel program. Last year, the Department of the Army initiated the SVC program to provide attor-neys for victims of sexual assault. The program provides victims of sexual assault their own lawyer, an SVC, to advise them and represent them on legal issues related to the sexual assault. In general, Army Family members who are sexually assaulted by a Soldier, and Soldiers who are sexually assaulted by anyone, are entitled to the services of an SVC.
In the past, victims of sexual assault in the military didn’t have anyone working as their legal advocate. The perpetrator’s legal advocate was the defense counsel and the prosecutor was working on behalf of the government.
On Fort Knox that counsel is Capt. Mike Winn, an attorney who represents victims and their legal interest from the beginning through post-trial conviction, to include appeals if there is a conviction.
What if a victim wants to talk to someone about the sexual assault but doesn’t feel like talking to an attorney yet? Call a victim advocate. Just as when reporting to an SVC, victims can make restricted reports to a victim advocate and seek help and counseling for what they experienced, even if they do not want anyone else to know about it. Also, the victim advocate is held to the same rules of confidentiality that the SVC is. However, there are differences between the programs. While the SVC is a licensed attorney and works in the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate, the victim advocate works for the installation Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Program or the Family Advocacy Program and is not an attorney. Despite the differences, the victim advocate and the SVC can be great resources for victims of sexual assault, and many ask for help from both programs.
Roger Dickerson, the installation SHARP manager, said his program is also available to help what he calls “survivors” of sexual assault.
Winn believes that having a Special Victim Counsel available “gives the victims some measure of control back in their lives.”
“A victim of sexual assault (is) often entering a strange world in regard to the legal process,” explained Winn. “There are a lot of strange terms thrown at them and they often don’t know what’s going to happen.”
“Our role in the process is to assign sexual assault survivors a victim advocate if they want one,” said Dickerson. “Our main concern is sexual assault survivor care. (We) work with survivors as long as they request our services.
“We can give referrals to counseling, see if they qualify for ACS (Army Community Service) programs and assign a victim advocate to assist them; we don’t judge, we are here to assist,” Dickerson added.
First, to be clear: Contacting an SVC does not mean that the case will be reported outside the SVC’s office, unless it’s at the victim’s request. If someone has been the victim of a sexual assault, and chooses to file a restricted report, that means the victim can talk with an SVC in confidence. The SVC may be able to help with other legal-assistance matters if choosing to file a restricted report.
If victims have experienced a sexual assault, they may also choose to file an unrestricted report. An unrestricted report means that law enforcement may investigate the case. If the wrongdoer was a Soldier, his command will get involved and decide how to take action. In this situation, the SVC can be present with the victim in any meetings with investigators and prosecutors. The SVC will advise them on what the justice process will look like going forward and where they fit in. If victims are Soldiers, the SVC can help explain their wishes to their command and, if they desire, help them request an expedited transfer to get away from the wrongdoer.
Although victims might be apprehensive about reporting an assault, Winn pointed out that in many cases they will tell a friend about it. When a delay happens, the physical evidence may be gone, and Winn can provide legal advice.
“I advise them on what the legal process will look like if they report either restricted or unrestricted,” Winn said.
Winn also represents victims if they need help with legal assistance such as breaking a lease to get away from the perpetrator or help in finding the availability of community resources and what the legal pro-cess will look like in mi-litary or civilian courts.
“I represent victims throughout the military justice process,” Winn said. “Sexual assault victims have rights in the military justice process. I’m there to speak for them. I can’t speak for the victim unless they call me.”
Like SHARP, Winn receives his referrals through the local Criminal Investigative Division, Special Victim Prosecutor, victim advocates and other people involved with the justice process.
Winn said the Special Victims Counsel Program is one of the manifestations of the Army taking the problem of sexual assault very seriously.
He recalled a case of a victim almost changing her mind about pressing charges after being assaulted. After the assault the perpetrator hired a lawyer who tried to bully the victim into dropping the charges; which she almost did. However, once Winn was notified he was able to provide the support that she needed and the victim was able to focus on what needed to be done in court.
“The defense counsel told her a lot of lies. He told the victim she would spend millions of dollars defending herself against a defamation lawsuit,” he ex-plained. “She considered retracting her report. When I got involved to protect her interests, it gave her confidence and encouragement to continue to file charges. She credits my involvement in keeping her going in the case and pursuing justice.
“One of the benefits of this program is to be a legal advocate, Winn said. “ I am one part of the team in the Army combating sexual assaults. I advocate for victims and help them achieve their own goals in the process, whether or not they decide to assist in the prosecution.”
Even though a victim may initially turn down assistance, Winn and Dickerson said help is always available. Dick-erson added that leadership is also instrumental in ensuring the success of the program.
“We as an Army cannot combat sexual assault without the dedicated involvement of the unit commanders from brigade all the way down to the squad level,” Winn said.
One last word for men: Sexual assault is a real problem for men, too. The SVC is here to advise and represent male victims of sexual assault just the same as he is here for females. Don’t suffer in silence. Remember, the help is confidential.
Winn works in Pike Hall, Bldg. 1310, at the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate. You can reach him by calling (502) 210-8830. For more informa-tion or help on SHARP, contact the 24/7 hotline by calling (502) 851-3779, or the Department of Defense Helpline at (877) 995-5247.