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VWAP educates, aids personnel affected by crime

17 Oct 2013 | Cpl. Mark Stroud

CAMP FOSTER, Japan - Victims and witnesses play a key role in the military justice system. They also sometimes endure a heavy burden within the legal process.

The Victim Witness Assistance Program was established in accordance with Marine Corps Order 5800.14 to help those most affected by crime participate in the legal process while maintaining their dignity and reducing negative effects.

Without the cooperation of victims and witnesses, the military justice system would cease to function. To this end, the U.S. Congress enacted a series of laws between 1982 and 2004 designed to provide information to crime victims and witnesses regarding their rights and position in the criminal justice system, according to the order.

The program is designed to inform victims and witnesses of their rights and reduce physical, psychological and financial hardship. It also provides education about the military justice and administrative process, and uses all reasonable efforts to foster cooperation with the legal system. 

“The program has increased understanding by victims and witnesses, which has led to them making more informed decisions about how they want to participate in the military justice (system),” said Capt. John H. Aaron, a former regional victim and witness liaison officer for Marine Corps Base Camp Smedley D. Butler, Marine Corps Installations Pacific. “Due to this, it has increased the effectiveness of the military justice system in terms of not pushing cases in which the victim or witness do not want to participate, and ensuring the case is handled at the proper forum based on the victim or witness’ participation.”

The VWAP is not limited to court-martial offenses; it is also available to victims of crimes processed as nonjudicial punishments or other administrative means, with special attention being paid to victims of violent crimes, according to the order. 

The program is designed to implement a multidisciplinary approach to reduce the trauma, frustration and inconvenience that may be experienced by victims and witnesses during the military justice and administrative process. 

“Much of the policy that guides the VWAP, and the order behind the VWAP, is there to ensure that the Marine Corps is doing right by victims and witnesses,” said Aaron. “This means all victim and legal organizations providing (their) best efforts to ensure the victim or witness is fully apprised of the realm of possibilities as a case moves forward. A victim is better equipped to take on the personal challenges associated with testifying at trial when they have been educated on their case’s progression and military process.”

MCIPAC’s Regional Victim Witness Liaison Office serves service members stationed on Okinawa. The office, which is unique in the Marine Corps, plays an especially important role in helping those far from traditional support structures, such as family and friends in the U.S.

“All other installations have a person assigned to run VWAP for their installation, either as a collateral billet or full-time job, (instead of a dedicated office),” said Aaron. “The VWAP also acts as a referral service, ensuring victims and witnesses are linked with the proper support organizations. While the military justice section and a victim or witness’ command work to handle the logistics of travel and lodging, and (Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program) or (Family Advocacy Program) ensures there are personnel in place to provide emotional support, the VWAP serves as a second line of defense to ensure these issues do not fall by the wayside.”

For more information on the resources available through the VWAP, contact the Regional Victim and Witness Liaison Office at 645-4303.

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