Focus On
Kevin O’Shea

NL survivors of sexual violence get help on legal journey

Friday, December 06, 2019 @ 8:57 AM | By Donalee Moulton

Funding for The Journey Project, a legal support program for survivors of sexual violence, is coming to an end. However, Kevin O’Shea, executive director of the Public Legal Information Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (PLIAN), is optimistic the three-year pilot program is sustainable.

“The impact we’ve had speaks for itself,” he told The Lawyer’s Daily in an interview.

That impact is highlighted in a recent evaluation report. Feedback from interviews with survivors found that the program increased their ability to make informed decisions, made information understandable and accessible and provided a visible and easy point of access to the justice system. In addition, trauma informed training was offered to 743 service providers throughout Newfoundland and Labrador, 200 police officers, and 29 lawyers, among others.

Kevin O’Shea, executive director of PLIAN

The first point of contact for survivors looking to learn more about their options are The Journey Project’s legal support navigators. They do intake, answer questions, provide general legal information and make referrals to community-based services and lawyers who can assist. “At every stage of the process, we try to meet the person where they are,” said O’Shea.

The program, a joint initiative between PLIAN and the Newfoundland and Labrador Sexual Assault Crisis and Prevention Centre, offers survivors a range of services including up to four free hours of legal advice for victims of sexual violence. In its first six months of operation, the program served over 50 clients and 20 lawyers were recruited throughout the province to take part in the program.

Those lawyers were trained through continuing legal education programs put on by PLIAN. Three mobile clinics were offered in Labrador, including Nain, the northernmost community in Labrador. In some cases, O’Shea noted, the lawyers were not in the criminal justice system but were working in an adjacent area where the trauma-informed training would be helpful. “That basis is beneficial no matter where you work in the legal profession.”

While not the first jurisdiction in the country to provide legal services to survivors of sexual violence – Ontario, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan already have similar programs in place – The Journey Project is different, said O’Shea. “It’s based in the community. ... It’s two organizations that have many years working with the public. It’s the most holistic and comprehensive support available.”

That support is built on a foundation of trauma-informed support. This approach recognizes that individuals who have experienced sexual violence have experienced a trauma and that trauma can lead to a wide and diverse range of behaviours and symptoms. “Anyone working in the legal system needs to have an understanding of this,” said O’Shea.

He noted that armed with this training and insight, lawyers and others will be better able to accommodate a survivor appropriately. “It’s a complicated process. You need to be aware of this and understand it.”

The Journey Project, funded as a three-year pilot program, continues to expand its services and reach. Most recently it announced the launch of third-party reporting in partnership with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, the provincial police force. Survivors can make a report with PLIAN who will share the information with the police, but the complainant’s name will not be revealed. “That allows the survivor to set the timeline,” said O’Shea. He noted that the complaint will remain on file with the police who can use the information to look for trends, for example, with other complaints that have been filed.

The Journey Project co-leads are also actively exploring the possibility of expanding the service to survivors of all ages. At present, individuals must be at least 16 years of age. “We know there is a need out there for support for children and youth who have experienced sexual violence,” O’Shea said.

Expect an announcement soon, he added.