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Victims’ Counsel: provide support and justice

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Evan Lichtenhan
  • 5th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

The Victims’ Counsel’s mission is to empower victims of crime through independent advice and client-centered legal representation. The Victims’ Counsel at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, consists of two members, Captain Rina Hernandez, Victims’ Counsel officer in charge, and Senior Airman Elena O’Connor-Rua, Victims’ Counsel paralegal. Once an individual reports a sexually related offence or domestic violence offense, their victim advocate will give them to option to pursue legal action.

“The Victims’ Counsel represents clients of specific kinds of crimes,” said Hernandez. “Typically sex related crimes, but also victims of domestic violence, as well as intimate partner violence. We counsel and guide the victim through the various stages of the military justice process, starting at the beginning with the investigation, all the way through disposition. If there is a court martial, a discharge board, or whatever the process may be, that’s the end goal. We advise throughout that whole process.”

Hernandez explained they work very closely with agencies such as Family Advocacy and Sexual Assault and Prevention Response. These partnering agencies provide specific kinds of services; medical, emotional, or mental health, whereas the Victims’ Counsel office focuses on the legal aspect. She explained the legal process can be overwhelming as it has many steps, and the Victims’ Counsel’s job is to provide that legal guidance to their clients.

Individuals eligible for their services include active-duty Air Force and Space Force members, their dependents, and any Air Force Reserve Airmen if they are on Title 10 orders.

Once the individual decides they are going to pursue legal action, their victim advocate will assist them by reaching out to the Victims’ Counsel. The Victims’ Counsel holds a unique role as they have their own chain of command outside of the 5th Bomb Wing and 91st Missile Wing.

“Part of the strength of the Victims’ Counsel program is that our chain of command is removed from installation leadership,” said Hernandez. “The base commander is not in our chain of command, nor are we influenced by the Staff Judge Advocate at the base legal office. We are very independent in that regard. I think that provides integrity and purity to the process. You don’t want the Victims’ Counsel beholden to the leadership of the victim.”

The Victims’ Counsel is a helping agency for those in need. If you feel you want to peruse legal action in relation to a sexual or domestic offense, you can report the incident to the following helping agencies at:

Family Advocacy: (701) 723-5096,
     24/7 crisis line: (701) 723-3531

Sexual Assault Response Coordinator: (701) 723-5275
     24/7 report line: (701)-340-8882

Equal Opportunity: (701) 723-2711