By Barrie Barber

The Air Force has trained 60 attorneys to provide legal counsel to victims of sexual assault as the service confronts a growing sex scandal at its boot camp training program at Joint Base San Antonio in Texas and recently concluded service-wide inspections to remove offensive material in workplaces.

Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley announced a “special victims counsel” pilot program would begin this month in a recent letter to U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton.

Turner added language in the fiscal 2012 defense bill that required the military to provide lawyers to victims of sexual assault.

“The rapist has always been entitled to counsel, but the victim had not and it was completely unjust and wrong,” Turner told the Dayton Daily News.

Lt. Col. John Dorrian, an Air Force spokesman, said the service branch had wanted for some time to implement the program, but needed legal authorization to proceed.

Turner and U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., co-chairmen of the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus, sent an Aug. 10 letter to Donley challenging the Air Force’s interpretation that the language only applied to civil matters.

“The intent of this provision was to ensure that all victims of sexual assault had access to legal counsel to help them navigate the often confusing investigative and prosecutorial systems of the military while preventing any further victimization,” the representatives wrote.

In a Dec. 21 response to Turner, Donley said the Department of Defense’s legal review of the language found it could apply to providing legal assistance to sexual assault victims. Assignments of legal counsel will be based on an assessment of a sexual assault response coordinator, the branch secretary wrote.

“These actions will ensure that legal assistance is available to sexual assault victims throughout the investigative and court-martial process consistent with the due process rights of the accused,” Donley wrote.

None of the lawyers are assigned to Wright-Patterson, but legal assistance will be available to victims, said Lt. Col. Erik Coyne, chief of strategic communication for the Air Force Judge Advocate General Corps.