Free legal advice is now being offered to survivors of sexual assault in Nova Scotia.
The creation of the Legal Advice for Sexual Assault Survivors was announced Friday in Bridgewater, N.S.
The three-year pilot project is receiving $810,000 from the federal government.
“We are excited that this service is in place as there is a major need for legal advice and support for survivors of sexualized violence going through the court process,” said Jackie Stevens, executive director of the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre, in a statement.
In order for participants to be eligible for the program the assault must have taken place in Nova Scotia and you must be at least 16-years-old.
The program says it respects survivors’ privacy and their right to make their own decisions.
A sexual assault survivor whose name is protected under a publication ban, says legal advice would have helped her following her own assault.
Se hopes this is just the beginning of change within the justice system.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction. It’s a very, very small step, a very tiny step. They need to do a lot more,” she said.
She says that the process she had to go through was a nightmare.
“I would have never gone to the police, I never would have, and maybe if I had a lawyer that would have laid it out for me step-by-step, it would have saved me three years of my life.”
The woman recently saw her attacker sent to prison – and says the court process was long and difficult, making her feel ‘victimized over and over.’
Those wishing to take part can call 211 to register. However, participants do not need to provide any details about what happened — only that you were sexually assaulted in Nova Scotia and would like to speak with a lawyer.
Once a participant is registered with the program, they will be sent a package with a certificate number for two free hours of legal advice.
“The better we understand and meet the needs of victims of crime, the more just and fair our criminal justice system will become,” said MP Bernadette Jordan in a news release.
“If victims do not report sexual assault because they fear they will not be believed, or they lack confidence in the criminal justice system, then the integrity of the system is called into question.”
The packages that participants will receive come equipped with a list of lawyers participating in the program who have been screened and received training.
Meetings between survivors and lawyers can take place by phone, in person or through a video conference.
If a survivor needs more time with a lawyer, participants are able to call 211 again — and will be sent another certificate number for a second two-hour session of legal advice.
Stevens says there is a major need for legal advice and support for survivors going through the court process. However, she isn’t sure a maximum of four free hours of legal advice is sufficient.
“I think very quickly government will learn that 4 hours of legal advice will not be enough because of the complex needs that people have going through the justice process,” said Stevens.
Funding will also help Public Prosecution Service create a helpful guide on the court process for victims and survivors of sexual assault and provide training specific to sexual violence for Crown Attorneys.
The program was created by the Nova Scotia Department of Justice and is funded by the Justice Canada Policy Centre for Victim Issues.
If someone is unsure whether or not they were sexually assaulted, the department says they can still call 211 and register for the program. A lawyer can then help participants define what happened according to the law.
For a list of sexual assault centres in Nova Scotia you can click here.