Can the legal system help survivors of sexual assault and/or domestic violence? How can it be helpful? How might it not be? And how can I have those conversations with someone if I’m not a lawyer?
The Legal Information Network of Colorado (LINC) program at Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center (RMvlc) has spent the last six years learning more about the complex legal needs of victims and survivors of crime, and has worked to meet those needs in effective and innovative ways. Some of what we have learned is surprising–for example, who would have thought that having more lawyers is not the best solution to every problem?
Whether or not a survivor chooses to engage with the criminal justice system, the civil legal system may also offer ways to address concerns related to safety, housing, work, custody, immigration, and more. However, finding answers to questions about all of these legal issues, or even knowing what questions to ask, can be challenging. LINC has developed resources and tools to help survivors ask the questions, and get the information and resources they need to answer them. The LINC website, www.coloradolinc.org, was developed by attorneys and victim advocates in response to research that showed having access to accurate and reliable legal information was a substantial need for victims and survivors of crime in Denver, even more than a need for more lawyers. To make it even easier for survivors to get to the information they need, the LINC website added an issue-spotting/self-advocacy Help Tool, that guides users through a series of questions to help identify legal issues they may be having, then provides them with a summary of the legal information and resources related to those issues.
However, just getting legal information and resources is not always enough. Having a strong advocate who can both help someone interact with the legal system, while also addressing often more pressing needs, like financial assistance, support services, and basic needs, is also important. Being able to help navigate the legal system, while also working to address non-legal needs, is an important role an advocate can have in the life of a survivor, but it can be scary for advocates to talk about legal issues, or to talk to attorneys about those issues.
In our session at CAIA, Kazi Houston, the Legal Information Network Director at Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center, and Emily Tofte Nestaval, RMvlc’s Executive Director, will talk about how attorneys and non-attorneys can work together to address the holistic needs of survivors of sexual assault and/or domestic violence in a trauma-informed, victim-centered, and intersectional way, and how to talk about legal issues if you are not a lawyer. We will also talk about when the legal system may be a good option for survivors, when it may not be, and the unique role advocates can play in making the legal system a more accessible space for survivors.