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Special Victims’ Counsel: Who are they and what do they do?

Special Victims’ Counsel Program graphic.

The Special Victims’ Counsel Program delivers victim-centered advice and advocacy through comprehensive, independent representation to sexual assault victims worldwide, assists them in obtaining support and recovery resources and promotes greater confidence in the military justice process and the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force graphic)

MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --

Perhaps you have heard the term “SVC” in a commander’s call, newcomers’ briefing, or in some other Air Force function?

Fortunately, most service members will never interact with a Special Victims’ Counsel (SVC) office or need its services, but every member should know what the SVC is and what they do!

The SVC office is a team that consists of an attorney and paralegal, both with significant experience in the military justice system. This team specializes in the representation of victims of sexual assault, sexual misconduct, stalking and other similar crimes.

What does an SVC actually do? Ultimately, an SVC is the crime victim’s attorney. They provide many services for their clients such as legal consultations and advice regarding the military justice system and victim rights, offering referrals for numerous types of services, attending interviews with their clients at the Office of Special Investigations, legal office and other locations.

Additionally, they represent their client’s needs to commanders, trial counsel, area defense counsel, military judges, OSI and others. They also represent client’s rights in courts-martial or discharge boards, assisting in cases involving retaliation against a victim for reporting a crime and explaining the numerous legal processes, procedures, rules of evidence and other issues that arise throughout the military justice process.

More simply put, an SVC ensures that victims know their legal rights and assists them in exercising those rights.

An SVC has three main roles: Advocate, advise and empower. Advocate – to provide victims zealous advocacy by protecting their rights. Advise – to provide legal advice by helping victims understand the often complex investigatory and military justice process. Empower – to remove barriers and ensure that victims have full participation in the military justice process.

People sometimes ask, “Why do I need an attorney? I didn’t do anything wrong.” The answer is that SVCs advocate for the protection of victims and their rights. This might be protecting health records or previous irrelevant sexual activity. It also means ensuring that a victim’s case is kept private and only those with a need-to-know learn about it.

Additionally, SVCs often facilitate their client’s transfer to different sections, squadrons or bases to ensure that they are safe, comfortable and able to begin recovery physically, mentally and emotionally.

One of the many difficulties for victims is sense of losing control of the situation and their lives.  Once an OSI investigation begins that becomes even more difficult. Something unique to the military justice process is that there are times where there is a requirement to request a victim’s input. This allows a victim to gain back some control, as there are multiple outcomes that can occur from these decisions.

SVCs advise their clients on their input and ensure they make informed decisions. They also advise victims of the relative strength of their case and potential outcomes depending on the evidence that was gathered. These services also help to empower the victim and allow them to regain a certain amount of control.

SVC services are free and available to service members, their dependents and anyone else who qualifies for representation. The justice system can be very intimidating and having an attorney to help a victim through that process is invaluable.

Should you ever find yourself or anyone you know in need of SVC services, please reach out to your local sexual assault response coordinator and request an SVC team to advocate for your rights!

For more information or to request SVC support, please contact the SVC office at (813) 828-7668 or (813) 828-2579.