Photo by Rachel Larue
U.S. Marine Corps Col. Carol K. Joyce, officer in charge of the Corps’ Victims’ Legal Counsel Organization, poses for a photograph in her office on the Henderson Hall portion of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall April 9. The VLCO started taking cases Nov. 1, 2013.
As government officials and the Department of Defense focus on combating and ending sexual assault and harassment in the military, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall has welcomed two new authority figures in the fight against the problem.
Col. Carol K. Joyce, officer in charge of the United States Marine Corps’ Victims’ Legal Counsel Organization (VLCO), and Yolanda King, the new sexual assault response coordinator for the joint base, have both set up shop on JBM-HH and are already working to stop what officials have called the number one problem facing the military.
From her office on the Henderson Hall portion of the joint base, Joyce oversees a new DoD-mandated Marine Corps program that provides victims of sexual assault and other crimes with free legal counsel. The program, which stood up Nov. 1, 2013, and became fully operational Jan. 1, connects victims with experienced Judge Advocate Corps lawyers who discuss cases with full confidentiality, provide legal advice and look out for victim’s legal interests in court.
Joyce stressed that the 15 Marine lawyers she leads are "voices for the victims," separate from prosecuting attorneys. Whereas prosecutors seek justice and want to secure a conviction, the Marine Victim Legal Counsel (VLC) are there to protect the rights of a victim throughout the judiciary process.
"We are the third party coming into the courtroom saying, ‘Your honor, we do not believe the prior sexual behavior of this individual is relevant in this case,’ or ‘We do not believe that the prior medical records relating to this victim at a time when she was only 3 years old are relevant to this case, and we want to be heard,’" Joyce said.
VLCs also work with commanding officers on behalf of victims regarding how to proceed once an allegation has been made. The lawyers advise victims on the consequences of transferring to different posts and help commanders handle any collateral offenses that may have occurred during an alleged assault. For instance, if a victim was drinking underage at the time of an assault, the VLC would work to make sure that the offense was handled appropriately but didn’t overshadow the case.
"Too many times victims believe that if they did something wrong, then nobody’s going to believe them with regards to the offense," Joyce said. "VLCs can get them past that."
Under the DoD mandate, the military services were ordered to establish their own organizations to provide legal service to sexual assault victims. While other branches have more limited requirements for victims to be eligible for these legal services, the Marine Corps VLCO helps victims of sexual assault and other crimes, as well as victims who are under 18 years of age.
"We wanted to make it so that any crime victim would know they could go to us," Joyce said.
The VLCO has taken 314 cases since Nov. 1, 2013. According to Joyce, roughly 60 percent of those have been sexual assault cases.
According to Pentagon data from earlier this year, there were 5,400 reports of sexual assault in the military in 2013, compared to 3,374 in 2012. The numbers are unofficial, taken from a report containing data on sexual assaults involving military personnel in and out of uniform and from before they entered the military. The annual sexual assault report will be published later this year.
"[DoD officials] directed us to stand up these organizations because we weren’t taking care of our own," Joyce said.
These services are available to active duty and reserve component servicemembers, as well as dependents, retirees and some civilian federal employees.
"[VLCs] are there to instill confidence in the victim, to move forward on a case and know that there’s someone there to speak on their behalf," Joyce said. "When they [victims] want to exercise their right, clearly they’re more empowered with an attorney."
As the new SARC on the Fort Myer portion of the joint base, King will oversee a team of victim advocates who will act as another support system for victims of sexual assault.
King began on JBM-HH on April 7. She previously served in Europe as the Sexual Harrassment/Assault and Prevention (SHARP) coordinator for Bavaria and Franconia, stationed on U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria in Grafenwoehr, Germany.
King has experience as a victim advocate, a sexual assault response coordinator and a program coordinator. She has covered seven installations and managed 23 SARCs and more than 160 victim advocates. She has personally overseen more than 40 cases.
As the SARC for JBM-HH, King coordinates support for survivors with their victim advocates and with the SHARP partners – that could be criminal investigation command, medical, behavioral health and more, she said.
But at day’s end, King’s primary duty is to help victims.
"When SHARP came on board, I fought to be part of the program," she said. "I like to help people and I feel that that’s in my wheelhouse to assist others. And to help the survivor of a sexual assault find that new normal and get back to a place where they feel that they’ve regained some sense of control … that speaks to me."
To contact the Marine Corps’ VLCO in the National Capital Region on Marine Corps Base Quantico, call 703-784-4514.
To contact the 24-hour SHARP hotline on the Fort Myer and Fort McNair portions of the joint base, call 202-498-4009.
See page 2 for more information on Yolanda King.