Legal advice offered free of charge for sexual violence survivors in Sask.

Legal advice offered free of charge for sexual violence survivors in Sask.

Saskatchewan survivors of sexual violence can now access two hours of free advice from a lawyer. 

On Tuesday, the province opened up The Listen Project, an initiative to help people navigate the justice system. 

"We consistently have some of the highest statistics and we know that many people experience sexual violence," said Crystal Giesbrecht, who is the director of research and communications at the Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services. 

"They don't always reach out for help to police, to service providers, to the justice system."

Furthermore, she said people don't always know if what happened to them was "serious enough" to take action. 

The Listen Project is hosted by Public Legal Education Association of Saskatchewan (PLEA) and was funded by the federal government. 

PLEA connects program applicants with a lawyer for their two hours, with an opportunity for more time in complex cases. They can speak with the assigned lawyer in person, over the phone or online.

Currently, about 25 lawyers are on PLEA's roster. 

 "That reduces a lot of barriers too, because for someone in a remote community, even to travel to the next city or town to get legal advice isn't always feasible," Giesbrecht said. 

The program is open to anyone who has experienced incidents like sexual assault, exploitation and harassment as well as historical sexual abuse. 

A police report isn't required, nor are there age or gender restrictions. However, the sexual violence had to have happened in Saskatchewan. 

Giesbrecht said the program can encourage people who have considered legal action to move forward. 

"Retaining a lawyer might not be something they're able to do or something they're ready to do," she said. But when the process is explained, without cost, it can provide a person clarity on how to proceed. 

PLEA administrative coordinator Sharon Peterson said lawyers who want to join the program must undergo a training program before they can apply. Then, PLEA will verify that they are in good standing with the Law Society of Saskatchewan. 

Their training program examined legal issues that could arise and focused on working with traumatized people, she said. For example, they talked about how create safe spaces for in-person consultations. 

Each case will look different based on the clients' needs. 

"Maybe they're having a family issue related to sexual violence, or something in the workplace," said Jocelyn Gagne, who is a legal writer for PLEA. 

"Maybe they have a human rights complaint based on it or they might have immigration concerns."

One of the biggest goals of the The Listen Project is to help survivors find a voice, Gagne said. 

The pilot project is slated to run until March 2021. 

Survivors can contact the program online at https://listen.plea.org/ or by phone 1-855-258-9415.