Set to launch in June, a new service in Newfoundland and Labrador will help survivors of sexual violence understand their legal options and navigate the justice system.
It has been referred to as Sexual Violence Legal Support Services and new details were introduced at a news conference in St. John’s Thursday by Justice and Public Safety Minister Andrew Parsons.
The minister was side-by-side with Nicole Kieley, the executive director with the Newfoundland and Labrador Sexual Assault Crisis and Prevention Centre (NSACPC) and Kevin O’Shea, executive director with the Public Legal Information Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (PLIAN).
The service is being established with the support of the government — as announced last year — but in partnership with NSACPC and PLIAN, which have taken the leadership role and provided the timeline for the coming launch.
“Today marks a day in which our province and our community begin to rethink our approach to addressing sexual violence, supporting survivors within the legal system,” Kieley said, explaining the goal is to have a single stop for support.
“I truly believe this is the start of us doing something better together,” she said of the partnership approach.
O’Shea explained there will be legal “navigators” hired for the program over the next few weeks (as employees of both organizations), with the expectation of having two of these navigators available at all times once the service becomes available. These individuals will go through training in responding to sexual assault disclosures and working with individuals who have been subject to sexual violence. They will be able to offer general legal information.
At the same time, they will be able to offer referrals to lawyers, for up to four hours of free legal advice — now confirmed as part of the service.
Recruitment of lawyers willing to participate and offer their time is starting. There will be some compensation, but not necessarily reaching the level of a lawyer’s standard fees. Related training will be provided to all participants.
“A big part of this will be members of the private bar — lawyers out there who form a very significant part of our community,” Parsons said. “They’ve answered every challenge that’s been put to them before and I’m calling on them, I’m asking them to come to us to be a part of this. We need their support to help make this work.”
Parsons said the emerging service is meant to help empower individuals and avoid victims being left frustrated by the system, as has been reported to now.
To start, the service will be offered to people 16 years of age and over, but there is an interest in expanding the program’s capacity, O’Shea said.
It is being offered for anyone currently in Newfoundland and Labrador, or who was subject to violence in this province. It is meant to be available — by phone, email and in some areas in-person consultations — to the entire province.
Additional details will come closer to the official launch.
Determining what was needed and the exact approach to the service required consultations over the past year, including interviews with survivors around the province.
Anyone facing an assault or ready to speak about an assault now does not have to wait, and the Sexual Assault Crisis and Prevention Centre hotline will remain active at 1-800-726-2743. It is open for calls 24/7.