New program in B.C. offers free legal advice to sexual assault survivors

A man holding a piece of paper that reads "Me Too." Photo: Canva

A groundbreaking initiative aimed at providing free legal advice to individuals who have experienced sexual assault has been launched in British Columbia.

The program, known as “Stand Informed legal advice services,” is being offered by the Community Legal Assistance Society (CLAS), a not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing legal assistance, information, and education throughout the province.

Stand Informed extends a helping hand to survivors of sexual assault by offering up to three hours of confidential legal advice at no cost. Importantly, this service is available to individuals of all ages and genders, regardless of income, whether they have reported the assault to the police, or if they are uncertain about the nature of their experience.

Sexual assault remains a pervasive issue in British Columbia, with many cases going unreported to law enforcement, and few survivors seeking assistance. The Criminal Code of Canada defines sexual assault as intentional sexual touching without consent, underlining the necessity of freely expressed and ongoing consent.

Funded by the Government of Canada through the Department of Justice Canada, CLAS has been contracted by the B.C. Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General to administer Stand Informed legal advice services.

Research conducted by Statistics Canada reveals that sexual assault disproportionately affects women, particularly young women, Indigenous women, and individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, and two-spirited (LGBTQ2S+). A startling statistic from 2019 highlights that 37% of women over the age of 15 have experienced sexual assault in British Columbia.

However, the number of reported sexual assault cases remains alarmingly low, accounting for only about 6% of incidents (Stats Canada, 2021). Factors contributing to underreporting include distrust of the police, fear that their case will not be taken seriously, skepticism about achieving justice through the Canadian justice system, or a lack of awareness about available options and the legal system.

Jennifer Khor, CLAS Supervising Lawyer and Project Manager, emphasized the critical role of Stand Informed legal advice services: “Stand Informed legal advice services fill a gaping hole in the legal assistance available to people in British Columbia. 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. It’s also important to note that in B.C., there is no time limit for filing a criminal or civil complaint of sexual assault.”

Kelli Paddon, Parliamentary Secretary for Gender Equity, highlighted the program’s significance in ensuring safety in communities, stating, “British Columbians should feel safe in their communities. People who experience gender-based violence need to be able to access support they need when and where they need it. This program will give survivors of sexual assault the opportunity for free, accessible legal advice during a time when they may need it most, making a critical difference for many women, girls, and gender diverse people across B.C.”

Individuals in British Columbia who have experienced sexual assault and reside within the province can access free legal advice by contacting (604-673-3143) or sending an email ([email protected]) to access CLAS’s Stand Informed services. Stand Informed staff and lawyers employ a trauma-informed approach, ensuring that survivors feel safe and are not re-traumatized.

For further information, please visit the Community Legal Assistance Society’s website at www.clasbc.net.

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