In several recent posts, we've discussed why it is important for service members to consult with a private attorney regarding sexual assault allegations. A private, civilian attorney might not be subject to the same potential conflicts of interest as a JAG attorney.
A civilian attorney also chooses his or her private clients, rather than being involuntarily assigned to them as part of JAG duties. That choice is important, as a law firm that focuses on military law, like ours, can devote its full resources and advocacy on a military client's behalf.
A private law firm can also offer tips for how victims might best navigate the chain-of-command for reporting allegations of sexual assault or discrimination. Many sexual assault victims fear reprisal, as evidenced by the low reporting rates: 40 percent for women, and 13 percent for men. Yet even though more female victims of military sexual assault may come forward to report it, they do not represent the group most victimized by military sexual assault: According to the Pentagon's statistical data, men comprised 52 percent of the sexual assault victims in the U.S. military in 2014.
Although an incident of sexual assault would typically implicate criminal charges for a civilian, the military legal justice system works differently. In fact, allegations of sexual harassment or sexual assault might be processed differently and result in contrasting courses of action by different commanding officers. The process usually begins with an investigation into the charges. If the allegations are substantiated, penalties might range from negative evaluations, relief from command, and/or charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Source: The Guardian, "'It savaged my life': military sexual assault survivors fighting to become visible," Spencer Ackerman, Oct. 11, 2016