By Clara Spera, J.D. ’17
This January, I went to Naples, Italy to work with the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps, specifically with the Victims’ Legal Counsel program. The Victims’ Legal Counsel provides lawyers to victims of sexual assault in the Navy, to help victims in a variety of ways, including guiding them through all the procedural hurdles of reporting an assault, advocating for their rights during court-martial (or other administrative) proceedings, and helping to file requests for expedited transfers. Each branch of the military has now implemented a victims’ counsel program—the creation of these programs was mandated by Congress—but each branch has done it a little bit differently. My focus was on the Navy, but it was fascinating to learn about the differences across branches.
In my role, I helped the Victims’ Legal Counsel for the Europe-Africa-Southwest Asia (EURAFSWA) region, Lieutenant-Commander Jonathan Freimann, HLS J.D. ’01, with various research assignments mainly concerning victims’ rights under the Military Rules of Evidence. The military court-martial proceedings are essentially akin to federal criminal trials: a guilty verdict is a federal criminal verdict that can carry with it prison federal time and, in the case of sex offenses, registration on a sex offender registry. While my paper topic engages in a comparative analysis of on-campus adjudicatory procedures and the military justice system, it’s important not to diminish the severity and implications of a military court-martial.
Aside from my legal research assignments, the most exciting part of my time in Naples was meeting with people involved in the military justice system, from civilians working with Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) program, members of Navy Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS… it’s not just a show!), JAGs working in the defense counsel office, JAGs working as military prosecutors, the JAG in charge of overseeing the legal operations of the base where I was stationed, and a Navy judge. Each person I spoke with had a different take on the Victims’ Legal Counsel program. Though there is general and strong support for the implementation of the program, there are certainly some concerns, many of which mirror the kinds of due process concerns that have been voiced regarding recent reforms of on-campus procedures.
Now that I am back on campus, I am excited to further explore the intersection of on-campus sexual assault policies and proceedings with the military justice system. Something I hadn’t quite realized before this independent clinical placement is that the profile of offenders and victims in both spaces are similar: young adults under 25, many whom are away from home for the first time, closely-knit social and work environments, enclosed physical spaces. In the past half-decade, both the military and college campuses have come under heightened public and congressional scrutiny for the mishandling of sexual assault complaints. I am excited to research how this increased scrutiny has affected both spaces and to see if there are lessons that can be learned and borrowed from one environment to the other.