Nothing is quite as effective as a face-to-face conversation when you’re discussing a serious topic like sexual violence, says lawyer Kevin O’Shea, executive director of the Public Legal Information Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (PLIAN).
The Journey Project, a program that offers free legal support to survivors of sexual violence, is sending a team to Labrador next week for the first time, mainly for that reason.
They will spend the first half of the week in Nain and the remainder in Hopedale.
“I think this was really a reaction to recognizing that there was a low level of uptake from Labrador, and particularly from Indigenous communities, but at the same time we know that’s there’s high levels of sexual violence – higher compared to other parts of the province – in Labrador,” O’Shea told The Labradorian last week.
“We wanted to do what we could to bring the legal advice, bring this service, directly to people.”
The Journey Project is a collaboration between the PLIAN and the Newfoundland and Labrador Sexual Assault Crisis and Prevention Centre (NLSACPC), in partnership with the provincial government.
The program was launched last June and has since served over 50 clients.
Dealing with the legal system can be difficult for sexual violence survivors, O’Shea says, with many points where people can feel they are not being supported. The program might not be able to remove all those barriers or obstacles, but he thinks the service helps.
“I think one of the biggest issues is a lack of information and a lack of knowledge about the legal system. That’s what we’ve heard from survivors of sexual violence,” O’Shea says.
How it works
The services offered by the Journey Project are open to anyone aged 16 or older in Newfoundland and Labrador who has experienced sexual violence (or outside of the province if the incident occurred while they were living here).
O’Shea says the first step is calling PLIAN’s office and speaking with one of the program’s two legal support navigators. There’s an initial conversation to assess the person’s needs, answer any questions and provide some general information.
If the individual qualifies and wants to talk to a lawyer, they are referred to one of the 20 that have been recruited from around the province.
Up to four free hours of legal advice is available, which doesn’t need to be used all at once.
“Usually, we give a two-hour certificate first and if the person wants to have the other two hours they can come back and get the second certificate from our navigators,” O’Shea explained.
O’Shea says the aim is to try to connect in person, but that is not always possible. While the 20 lawyers are located around the province, there are gaps, and the program doesn’t have any lawyers signed up in Labrador at the moment. If an in-person consultation is not an option, phone, email or Skype are used as alternatives.
“It doesn’t matter where you live in the province, we’ll make sure you connect to a lawyer,” he said.
O’Shea said the program plans to focus on bringing more legal clinics to rural, northern and Indigenous communities in the future, with Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Sheshatshiu, and possibly Natuashish, in the works for March.
Anyone interested in contacting the Journey Project’s legal support navigators can do so by calling 1-833-722-2805 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sexual violence in N.L.’s Indigenous communities
The St. John’s Status of Women Council provided statistics from the RCMP to The Telegram for a story in October 2017 on sexual violence in Newfoundland and Labrador’s Indigenous communities.
According to those numbers, in 2015, there were 99 sexual offences committed in Indigenous communities in the province, with 91 per cent of the victims being female.
That year, there were a total of 399 sexual offences in the entire area covered by the RCMP in the province.
Because the RCMP doesn’t keep statistics based on ethnicity, the percentage of victims who were Indigenous could not be accurately determined, the story acknowledged.
The statistics provided to The Telegram, however, looked at Hopedale, Natuashish, Makkovik, Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Mary’s Harbour, Nain, Rigolet, Cartwright and Conne River, communities that are significantly Indigenous.