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B.C. sexual assault survivors can receive free legal advice with new service

Reported sexual assaults reached highest number in 25 years in 2021, according to Statistics Canada

Sexual assault survivors in B.C. can now receive up to three hours of legal advice for free.

The Community Legal Assistance Society launched their new Stand Informed service on Tuesday (Oct. 17), with funding from the federal Department of Justice.

It is available to anyone who has been sexually assaulted or who is unsure of what they experienced. Under the Criminal Code of Canada, sexual assault is defined as intentional sexual touching without consent.

“Until now, anyone who experienced sexual assault had nowhere to turn for accessible legal advice. Our goal with this service is to inform people of their legal options and empower them to do what they feel is best in their situation,” said Jennifer Khor, a supervising lawyer and project manager with the Community Legal Assistance Society, in a statement.

That could include pursuing criminal charges, filing a civil lawsuit or making a human rights complaint. In B.C., there is no time limit on following through on civil or criminal options. The society says their lawyers can also give advice on interrelated legal issues such as immigration and family law.

B.C.’s parliamentary secretary for gender equity, MLA Kelli Paddon, said the service could make a critical difference at a moment when survivors need it most. “People who experience gender-based violence need to be able to access support they need when and where they need it,” she said.

According to the latest data from Statistics Canada, 34,200 sexual assault reports were made in 2021, making it the worst year on record since 1996. That figure is thought to only capture a fraction of the actual number of sexual assaults, however, as just six per cent of cases are reported to police.

The Community Legal Assistance Society says in B.C. 37 per cent of women over the age of 15 have experienced sexual assault. Instances are disproportionately high among Indigenous and LGBTQ2S+ people.

The society says anyone reaching out to their Stand Informed service can expect to have a brief call with an intake coordinator. They are welcome to have a support worker or friend on the call, and an interpreter will be provided if needed.

It will then take one to two weeks for the service to match the survivor with the right lawyer and another couple of weeks before they can meet. That can be done over the phone, by video or, sometimes, in person.

The society says all its lawyers and staff are trained in a trauma-informed approach. Anyone looking to use the free service can find more information on the Community Legal Assistance Society website.

READ ALSO: Record number of sexual assaults reported to police in B.C. in 2021

About the Author: Jane Skrypnek

Hi, I'm a provincial reporter with Black Press Media, where I've worked since 2020.
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