In the aftermath of sexual assault, free legal assistance is available for sexual assault survivors
Published 10:52 am Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Editorial By Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman
Sexual assault is not just a criminal justice issue. Sexual assault is a public health and human rights issue that profoundly affects victims, their loved ones and society.
Nearly one in three adult Texans will experience some form of sexual assault in their lifetime. In more than 70 percent of sexual assault cases, the perpetrator is someone within the victim’s circle of trust—a family member, friend or co-worker. In all cases, the experience is traumatic and life altering.
Physical injuries are accompanied by emotional, legal and economic consequences. Survivors often feel helpless, scared and ashamed. Some even blame themselves and are reluctant to report or prosecute the assailant. And while trying to heal physically and emotionally, survivors must also confront legal issues that extend far beyond navigating the criminal justice system.
Common legal issues arising in the aftermath of sexual assault involve safety and family violence concerns, access to health insurance and disability benefits, time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act, immigration processes, privacy interests, educational effects, Crime Victims’ Compensation claims and housing issues. Many sexual assault survivors are unaware that free legal help is just a phone call away.
As part of an annual empowerment campaign, April is nationally recognized as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Among other initiatives this year, the Texas judiciary is working with the Texas Access to Justice Foundation (TAJF) to raise awareness that free legal help is available through the Legal Aid for Survivors of Sexual Assault (LASSA) network.
By calling LASSA’s toll-free number—1-844-303-7233 (SAFE)—survivors who qualify for legal aid can connect with advocates who provide free legal advice and referral to legal aid providers across the state. Through LASSA, sexual assault survivors can obtain help with safety and financial concerns, including securing a protective order; resolving child custody, child support and domestic violence issues; ensuring a safer working, educational, or housing environment; and safeguarding their privacy.
Established in 2015, the LASSA initiative was made possible with $10 million in funding from the 84th session of the Texas Legislature. With that funding, TAJF provides grants to nine nonprofit organizations throughout the state to provide free legal services to survivors of sexual assault. LASSA grantees provide a range of free legal services; community, law-enforcement and leadership training; and other assistive resources and materials for sexual assault survivors.
In addition to legal advice and representation, LASSA has established relationships with domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers across Texas, enabling its providers to offer immediate assistance in response to a call for help. LASSA advocates also partner with colleges and universities to prioritize sexual assault awareness and prevention. LASSA leverages its academic partnerships to help ensure faculty and administrators are responsive to allegations of sexual assault and understand their legal obligations to survivors.
In the short time since its founding, LASSA has provided legal assistance to 4,500 sexual assault survivors, serving as a lifeline that enables survivors to protect themselves and move forward with their lives.
With continued financial support from the Texas Legislature, a community of legal advocates across the state will remain available to assist sexual assault survivors with the challenges that lie ahead. For free services that protect victims and their families from the safety, financial and legal ramifications of sexual violence, just call 1-844-303-7233 (SAFE).
A network of dedicated souls stands ready, willing and able to help.
Eva Guzman has served as a justice on the Supreme Court of Texas since 2009. She is the first Latina to be elected to the high court and to statewide office in Texas. She serves as the Texas Supreme Court’s liaison to the Texas Access to Justice Foundation.