Caring for your people: special victims’ counsel

Leaders, one of the most important things we do is care for our people during crises.

One such crisis is when someone is sexually assaulted, especially for someone in the military. Whether a victim pursues action against a perpetrator, whether they come forward at all for assistance, is affected by a dizzying myriad of concerns. For a military member all of those concerns exist, and they’re heightened by concerns over how the situation will affect their military career and the close knit family-like relationship with their military unit and peers. The military judicial system can overwhelm a victim, making them feel a victim over and over, and over, again.

Well, enough of that. It’s time to empower victims so they don’t feel railroaded by the system. Despite the many recent negatives associated with the budget and downsizing, the Air Force has launched a Special Victims Counsel program for victims of sexual assault.

What’s different in this case? Well, the SVCs work on behalf of the victims. That may sound obvious, but until now consider this: the prosecution works for the Air Force; the Sexual Assualt and Response Coordinators (SARCs) work for the command, and are not lawyers; the ultimate goal of each is prosecution of perpetrators, not addressing the concerns of the victims. The SVCs are duty bound to work on behalf of no one but the victim, just as a defense attorney works for a defendent. For a victim the difference in approach by being directly represented can be tremendous.

You can read more about it here, in a non-military news release:
Here, in the Stars and Stripes:
And here, in an AF JAG one pager:

Air Force leaders, if one of your Airmen is dealing with sexual assault this is one way you can help them regain control. Legal professionals find sexual assualt litigation very challenging; expecting a victim to navigate the legal issues while simultaneously healing and performing their regular military duties is nonsensical. Help them out and recommend they contact an SVC, or reach out to an SVC on their behalf (if appropriate; trust your judgement).

Sister service leaders, this is an Air Force pilot program; should your troops face this by all means contact an Air Force SVC and see if they’ll take one more case on. Unless you try the answer is no; it might be yes if you call. It’s a sad reality we need this program, but hopefully it won’t be long until it’s expanded across DoD.


Be kind, always

The hardest letter one Airman ever wrote — Col Swanson shares his own story about hopelessness, choosing to end his life … and finding reasons to live again.  “Swanson went from writing the hardest letter of his life as a captain [saying goodbye to his family], to making one of the hardest decisions of his life as a colonel – to go public with his suicide attempts, in hope of possibly reaching someone struggling with overwhelming emotional pain.”

Leaders, remember you may not always know what our troops are going through.  Pay attention, and even when providing difficult counseling or course corrections please do your best to interact with respect and kindness.