Waterloo Region’s Sexual Assault Support Centre is setting a precedent by introducing a pilot project that will provide free legal aid to survivors of sexual violence.
The position of a sexual violence legal advocate is being funded by the Law Foundation of Ontario, which aims to provide access to justice in the form of grants for legal aid, research and education. The service includes case management, individual advocacy, assistance with documentation and court accompaniment.
According to the Ontario Women’s Directorate, only 33 of every 1,000 cases of sexual violence are reported to the police out of which even fewer are prosecuted and convicted. These numbers tend to deter the faith that survivors have in the system. A lot of survivors also feel ashamed and don’t have the support they need to go through the legal system. More often than not, survivors of sexual violence are often stuck fighting within the legal system for years and are re-traumatized through every step of the process. Going through the justice system is also very expensive.
SASC’s step toward providing free legal aid to survivors from the beginning to the end of the process will hopefully increase access to justice and willingness to go through the system for survivors. Since this is a pilot program, they plan to assess and evaluate the impact of the service to create a larger program and support more survivors.
As a service now available in the Waterloo Region, students affected by sexual violence can seek counsel at SASC as well. Other services that SASC offers are support chats, individual and group counselling, helplines and family support systems.
Students at the University of Waterloo that have been personally impacted by sexual assault or sexual violence can also reach out to the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office for additional resources and support.