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Military Law

Service members who allege sexual assault are provided with lawyers in Air Force pilot program

Posted Apr 2, 2013 10:20 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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In a new pilot program, the U.S. Air Force is providing free legal counsel to service members who say they have been sexually assaulted.

The aim is “to keep sexual assault investigations from stalling before court-martial,” according to the Colorado Springs Gazette. The Air Force News Service reported on the program when it began in January.

Lt. Col. Dawn Hankins, who heads the Special Victims' Counsel Program, told the Gazette that 218 people were assigned lawyers in the first two months of the program. Usually the role of the lawyers is educational, but in 26 cases they filed motions on behalf of their clients. Often the motions sought to exclude evidence such as the victims’ mental health records.

Hankins told the Gazette that the initiative is intended to stop victims from feeling revictimized by the justice system. In fiscal 2011, she said, 96 service members who said they were sexually assaulted decided not to cooperate with investigators or prosecutors.

Sixty Air Force lawyers with experience prosecuting sexual assault cases are participating in the program part-time. A full-time group of 20 to 30 lawyers will replace the part-timers in June.

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