Wesley College students Wednesday learned of efforts by the U.S. Air Force to help the victims of sexual abuse.
When a young American joins the military, he or she does so because they believe in fighting for their country. The last thing they think of is having to fight the military itself in cases of sexual assault; many find they must struggle with a culture that has been seen as focusing more on persecuting the victim than prosecuting the attacker.
U.S. Air Force Special Victims Counsel Capt. Benjamin H. DeYoung talked about the Air Force’s efforts to correct this problem during a presentation Wednesday afternoon before a group of approximately 60 students at Wesley College.
DeYoung’s appearance was the second part of a series on sexual assault in the military sponsored by Wesley’s political science department and the League of Women Voters of Kent County. The first, presented in April 2013, included a showing of “The Invisible War,” an Academy Award-nominated investigative documentary examining rape and sexual assault in the military.
That forum was moderated by Associate Professor of Political Science Dr. Cynthia Newton, who introduced DeYoung at Wednesday’s discussion.
DeYoung is one of several dozen legal officers appointed since January 2013 to advocate for the victims of sexual assault in the Air Force. Stationed at Dover Air Force Base, DeYoung and three additional military legal experts represent victims in a region stretching from the Carolinas to Ohio.
“This is not just a military issue,” said Julie Price, second vice president of the League of Women Voters. “We’re shining a light on that, but sexual assault is an issue for everyone.
“It cuts across civilian and military lines, and it’s severely underreported.”
Despite recent social progress, there still are many taboos when it comes to talking about sexual assault, and considerable pressure within some military circles not to report such incidents, Price said.
“For lack of a better term, there’s a good-old-boy network that looks the other way,” she said.
The Air Force is the first of the services to try to address that problem with the Special Victims Counsel program.
His job is to advocate for the victims and to provide them legal guidance, DeYoung said. His work is done outside the base chain of command, meaning those in charge cannot pressure him one way or another.
“That frees me up to work for my clients’ interests without any concern about command influence,” he said.
To maintain client confidentiality, DeYoung could not discuss cases he has worked since becoming Dover’s SVC in June 2013 or even the number of cases he and the other special counsels have handled. Current policy is to have each officer work no more than 20 cases; if that number goes higher, the Air Force Judge Advocate General brings in additional special counsels, he said.
Although figures were not broken down by military branch, a Pentagon survey issued Wednesday indicated an almost 50 percent increase in sexual assault or unwanted sexual contact cases in the military in 2012. However, only 20 percent of such cases are reported to authorities.
Recent reports of high-ranking personnel accused of abusing their positions in exchange for sexual favors or to hide cases of sexual misconduct have garnered Congressional attention.
DeYoung noted the Military Defense Authorization Act of 2014 has made several changes to how such cases are handled, including limiting a commander’s authority to overturn sexual assault convictions.
DeYoung took the SVC job when it was offered him in June 2013, in part because sexual assault victims sometimes came to him for guidance, advice he could not give because of his then-job as a prosecutor.
“That informed me there was a real need for someone to represent victims directly,” he said after Wednesday’s presentation.
“Investigations and prosecutions are long and very difficult processes,” he said. “I think the more resources a victim has, the better.”