Sexual assault is a sensitive topic that can be very hard for people to talk about. In 2013, the Air Force implemented the Special Victims’ Counsel (SVC) program to provide confidential advice, advocacy and empower victims with independent legal representation. The Air Force currently has 49 SVCs and 30 Special Victims' Paralegals (SVPs) stationed at 42 bases in the United States and five other countries. Recently, Yokota AB’s Capt. Thomas J. Prochazka took the time to answer some questions on the topic.
Q. For someone unaware of the Special Victims' Counsel program, can you explain what it is?
Prochazka: The Special Victims' Counsel (SVC) program consists of JAG lawyers and paralegals who represent victims of sexual assault. Historically, the government had lawyers prosecuting sexual assaults and accused personnel had lawyers to defend their rights in the process. Unfortunately, there were no lawyers available to victims to help explain what was going on or to speak for them. The Air Force recognized the shortfall and implemented the SVC program in January 2013.
We have an independent chain of command outside of the wing organization which enables us to provide independent advice and advocacy on behalf of survivors of sexual assault in order to empower them in our system. We provide support from the reporting and investigation stage all the way to the resolution of the case. We can also help address victims' concerns about reporting (i.e. underage drinking, curfew violations, etc.).
Q. What is the mission of the SVC?
Prochazka: The official mission statement for the SVC program is: "To provide survivors with compassionate representation through expert legal advice and effective advocacy within the military justice process so survivors can confidently exercise their voice and choice." The last three words of that are really how we like to summarize what we do. We give survivors of sexual assault a "voice and choice" in what otherwise can be an overwhelming process.
Q. If someone feels like they have been victimized, what are the next steps they should take?
Prochazka: Safety is the number one concern for an individual who has been through a traumatic experience. If the individual is safely away from the threat, they should consider the resources that are available to them to respond to the incident of sexual assault. The foremost resource anyone should consider when they have been victimized is the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC) in the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) Office. The SARC has a number of resources they can provide to victims, ranging from confidential counseling to SVC referrals.
SAPR Offices are able to take "restricted" reports for individuals who want services to help recover from an assault but are not necessarily interested in participating in an investigation. This option is important because it can afford a survivor all of the needed resources in the immediate aftermath of an assault, including Sexual Assault Forensic Exams and any needed medical treatment, while preserving their privacy and their choice of whether or not to involve law enforcement. An individual can switch from restricted reporting to unrestricted reporting at any time but an unrestricted report can never be made into a restricted report.
Q. You're located on Yokota AB - how can victims from other Pacific installations get in contact with the SVC?
Prochazka: The SVC program currently has 49 SVCs and 30 Special Victims' Paralegals (SVPs) stationed at 42 bases in the United States and five other countries. With this manning, any victim of sexual assault who is interested in talking to an SVC or having an SVC assigned to them can do so. The easiest way to get in contact with an SVC is to go through the installation SARC or SAPR Office. The SARC at every installation knows the contact information for their nearest SVC and has the ability to forward referrals to us for interested individuals.
Q. Do you have any advice for someone who may be a victim?
Prochazka: There is no right way to recover from an incident of sexual assault. Each individual survivor's response is going to be different and each one will have different needs after being victimized. It is hard to shape overarching advice to address what would be a very individual experience, but for every victim and survivor I encourage them to reach out to their installation SARC or SAPR Office to see what services are available to them. Out of the available options, what services they choose to avail themselves of, from medical treatment to SVC services or law enforcement investigation, will be completely up to them.
Individuals who have friends who have been victimized need to be a friend. I recommend not asking questions that could be viewed as "victim blaming" or passing judgment; just be understanding and supportive, asking what the victim needs and getting them to the proper response agencies. If a survivor comes to you as a friend and confides in you, they are trusting you, and you need to make sure they are safe and get the resources that can best help them recover.
Q. Is there anything you would like to add?
Prochazka: If anyone has any questions about the SVC program, I encourage them to reach out to their nearest SVC office. We are happy to answer any questions people may have, including everything from the UCMJ and sexual assault questions to cross-training and volunteer opportunities. If someone is interested in volunteering to assist victims of sexual assault please do, because every installation has a need and you may be the person who can help a victim come through the experience as a survivor.