By Staff writer
2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Capt. Deepa Patel, Special Victims’ Counsel, provides information about male sexual assault at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., Sept. 7, 2017. Patel handles all of Barksdale’s sexual assault cases. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Sydney Campbell)
Capt. Deepa Patel, Special Victims’ Counsel, consults the Manual for Courts-Martial, which lays out victims’ rights, at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., Sept. 7, 2017. Patel is Barksdale’s first on-site SVC. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Sydney Campbell)
BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. – In June 2017, Team Barksdale launched the Special Victims’ Counsel program. As a result, victims of sexual assault will now have an attorney on base to represent them through the court-martial process.
“When victims make an unrestricted report, they usually have to go through the rigors of the military justice system,” said Captain Deepa Patel, the new Special Victims’ Counsel at Barksdale. “That can involve talking to OSI and testifying at a court martial. My job is to assist and support victims at every step of this process.”
The role of the SVC is to advise clients of their rights during the case, empower them to make decisions, and advocate on their behalf to commanders, convening authorities, and judges.
“For victims, the legal system can be quite daunting,” said Patel. “Telling a room full of strangers about the trauma of being sexually assaulted is extremely tough. This program is our way of showing victims that someone is in their corner and looking out for their best interests. That kind of support can go a long way in empowering victims and helping them find justice.”
The SVC program started in 2013, when Congress, the Department of Defense, and Air Force leadership identified the need for victims to have the right to an attorney. There are SVC offices all over the country, as well as at bases overseas. Previously, Barksdale’s sexual assault cases were handled at other SVC offices in the region.
“This independent counsel ensures that victims of sexual assault understand the process and that the victims are empowered to make decisions about their involvement in the military justice process,” said Lt. Col. Scott Hodges, 2nd Bomb Wing staff judge advocate. “While Barksdale Airmen have been supported by other SVC in the region, the assistance, and especially face to face counsel, will be easier to obtain with an SVC at Barksdale."
When someone files a sexual assault report, the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator will be the first office to respond. Simultaneously, the victim can ask to consult with the SVC, who can walk them through their options on a way forward. Any discussions that clients have with the SVC are strictly confidential.
The new office space for the SVC program will be in Building 5441, where the SARC office is currently located. Construction on this new space is slated to be completed by November 2017.
The SVC can be reached at 456-3337. TSgt Meshanda Lopez, the Special Victims’ Paralegal for this region, can be reached at (240) 278-9723.