There are roughly 26,000 reported sexual assaults per year within the branches of the vast United States Armed Forces. The problem may be proportionally smaller than found in civilian life, but is nonetheless a major concern as expressed by the commander-in-chief on down.
Catholic University law students were brought to date on how the military is responding as they listened to “Breaking Ground in Military Justice,” an Oct. 29 presentation by two Air Force officers about the 2013 creation of a Special Victims Counsel Program, an Air Force initiative that aims to strengthen support services for victims of sexual assault within their branch.
Major Robert Walker and Captain Allison DeVito spent an hour offering context about the historical status of victims in American law, both within and without the military. They identified specific problems that the Special Victims Counsel Program was created to address.
The program has already assisted more than 500 sexual assault victims this year, providing legal advice and emotional support as plaintiffs begin to navigate the oftentimes difficult and hostile process of pressing charges against a fellow service member.
DeVito said the program is sensitive to the fact that sexual assault victims in the military are often stuck in the same communities as the perpetrators of the crime. The program offers assistance with relocation if necessary.
The Special Victims Counsel Program has been favorably received and helped to refocus attention on other quirks of the military justice system, some of which are under active review.
One example: the power of a convening authority, such as a general, to unilaterally overturn conviction in a military court “for no reason at all” according to DeVito.
The captain suggested that such authority may not last much longer.
The discussion at CUA Law was cosponsored by the Military and National Security Law Students Association, the Women’s Law Caucus and the Law and Public Policy Program.