News: Wisconsin National Guard launches dedicated counsel program for sexual assault victims
Story by Vaughn Larson
By Vaughn R. Larson
Wisconsin National Guard Public Affairs
MADISON, Wis. - Military sexual assault prevention and response programs have gained attention over the past year as a Department of Defense report shows an increase in reported sexual assaults. Maj. Gen. Donald Dunbar, Wisconsin adjutant general, has made it clear the issue is a top priority in the Wisconsin National Guard as well.
"There is no place for sexual assault in the Wisconsin National Guard," Dunbar said. "We will not look the other way."
Over the past few months, Dunbar and other senior Wisconsin National Guard leaders have visited every Wisconsin National Guard unit and facility to convey that simple, unmistakable message.
Currently, the Wisconsin National Guard's sexual assault prevention and response program provides sexual assault and domestic violence victims with emergency response assistance, counseling and therapy referrals, personal and systemic advocacy, and access to applicable benefits. But as of Oct. 1, Wisconsin National Guard members coping with the unthinkable crime of being sexually assaulted by a fellow service member have a new advocate.
The Wisconsin National Guard's Special Victims Counsel program — the first such effort in the entire National Guard — provides a licensed attorney qualified in military law to help the victim who files an unrestricted report navigate the investigatory and military justice processes.
Military sexual assault victims currently have two options in reporting the assault. A restricted report provides medical treatment and counseling, and directs victims to the state sexual assault response coordinator, healthcare provider or military chaplain. No investigation occurs under a restricted report, so the perpetrator cannot be held accountable.
An unrestricted report provides the same services to the victim, but also initiates an investigation to hold the assailant accountable. The special victims counsel represents the victimin a varity of ways, and can by attending all interviews with investigators, trial and defense counsels, and advocating the victim's interests to commanding officers at all levels of the victim's command.
"We want the men and women of the Wisconsin National Guard to know that they are not alone if they report a sexual assault," said Col. David Dziobkowski, the Wisconsin National Guard's staff judge advocate.
The importance of providing this service is two-fold. In addition to providing victims with a greater opportunity to be heard and to protect their rights afforded under the military justice system, the special victims counsel can assist the victim if they wish to continue to participate with the investigation of the alleged assailant. In the 2011 fiscal year, approximately three of every 10 sexual assault victims in the U.S. Air Force opted out of the process before a trial could begin.
Dziobkowski said that just knowing someone is dedicated — and obligated — to advocate their best interests may persuade sexual assault victims to see the investigation process through to the end.
"This is about empowering victims," Dziobkowski said.
Dunbar said he authorized the special victims counsel — based on the program currently used by the U.S. Air Force — as part of a continuing effort to eliminate sexual assault within the ranks.
According to Capt. Robert Brania, the Wisconsin National Guard's sexual assault response coordinator, prevention training is conducted annually at the unit level. Training is also provided for victim advocates.
Both the Wisconsin Army and Wisconsin Air National Guard are providing a senior judge advocate to serve as special victims counsel. Wisconsin National Guard members serving on Title 32 or state active duty status who are sexually assaulted by another service member are eligible for special victims counsel service.
This work, Wisconsin National Guard launches dedicated counsel program for sexual assault victims, by Vaughn Larson, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.