Avalon Sexual Assault Centre says more legal support needed for victims

Avalon Sexual Assault Centre says there's still high demand for legal advocates to help victims of sexual assault navigate the court system but there's a lack of funding.

Some victims of sexual assault can wait years to have their case heard in court

Jackie Stevens, the executive director of the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre, says the organization no longer has funding for a legal advocate to help victims of sexual assault navigate the court system. (Pat Callaghan/CBC)

Avalon Sexual Assault Centre in Halifax can no longer afford a legal advocate to help victims of sexual assault navigate the court system, even though there's still high demand for the service. 

The money for a legal support advocate counsellor ran out in January.

"We were able to provide people with that general information and support around their options after sexual assault, what would happen through the reporting in the court process," said Jackie Stevens, executive director of Avalon.

The advocate would also accompany victims to certain appointments and connect them to appropriate services. 

Stevens says it can take too long to get sexual assault cases before the court.

"Commonly when our sexual assault nurse examiners are called to testify in court to provide expert witness testimony, sometimes it is a year or up to two years before sometimes they are being called to court," she said. 

"In some extreme circumstances, we are aware of a number of years where there may be delays."

Funding expired

Avalon Sexual Assault Centre first received funding for an advocate from the Law Foundation of Nova Scotia from 2008-2012. 

The group later received a one year grant from the Canadian Women's Foundation from January 2013-2014. 

"I want to clarify that this funding was time-specific and ended, it wasn't cut. To date we have not found additional funding for this position. However requests for this service continue," said Stevens.

She believes that the legal system needs to be changed so it responds more effectively to victims of sexual violence, so that even if there is a delay they feel supported and not left adrift in the court system.  

"In a lot of these cases, legal and law professionals are overworked. It's not something that's being done deliberately, but it certainly adds to that feeling for people who've been sexually victimized."

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