History and Government Faculty Publications

Victims’ Rights in the Military: Empowering Sexual Assault Victims with a Meaningful DoD Victims’ Bill of Rights

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2014

Journal Title

Virginia Journal of Social Policy and the Law







First Page


Last Page



The Department of Defense (DoD) has spent decades attempting to formulate a meaningful policy for victims' rights in the military courts-martial system. The result has been less than helpful to the victims, as the scales of justice have weighed heavily in favor of the accused. Although current DoD policy affords victims' rights, they lack specific actionable meaning. Up until December 26, 2013, with the passage of the Fiscal Year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (FY14 NDAA), DoD victims' rights were not written into the Manual for Courts-Martial; they did not give victims standing to make a statement to the court; they did not give victims power to deny interviews with defense attorneys; they did not give victims a right to be heard at many proceedings; and as a result, in many cases, these so-called victims' rights did not afford victims the day in court that they not only deserved, but that justice required. Although the FY14 NDAA provides measures to remedy this imbalance, it does not go far enough.

This article proposes a set of legal rights that would move the DoD further along on a path to correct the imbalance a victim suffers when injected into the military courts-martial process. These proposed rights have all been recognized in either state constitutions, legal precedent, or legislative act. Although these proposed victim rights cut against time honored DoD tradition, they are necessary, as the media continues to identify that the military system, while fair, has room for improvement, especially when it comes to handling sexual assault cases and particularly in addressing the fact that victims in the military system feel they lack power and a voice. This set of proposed legal rights offers that back to them, while ensuring the constitutional rights of the accused are protected.


Department of Defense, sexual assault, victim's rights, military