As sexual assault victims navigate the criminal justice system, they will sometimes encounter issues for which only their own legal counsel can adequately represent their interests. Many victims, mystified by the entire criminal justice process, do not realize that a) the prosecutor does not represent their interests1 and/or b) that a particular issue which has arisen is one in which a civil attorney can represent them. Even when victims recognize the need for a civil attorney, many do not have the resources to pay large attorneys’ fees and do not know how to go about seeking legal representation. Victim advocates working with sexual assault victims are often in a position to spot issues for which victims should consider retaining legal counsel. Advocates and agencies with community relationships are also in a position to help victims locate attorneys who are competent to represent the unique needs of sexual assault victims navigating the criminal justice system and willing and able to provide representation at low or pro bono (free) costs.
This module will identify some common legal issues for which sexual assault victims should consider seeking legal representation and tips for advocates to build community relationships with civil lawyers and refer victims appropriately. But because every case involves unique facts and issues it is impossible to provide an exhaustive list. This module also does not aim to provide advocates with the ability to perform a legal analysis, but rather to simply identify instances in which victims should consult with a civil attorney who can engage in a careful analysis of legal options available. This makes relationships between victim advocates and the legal community so important. It is important for advocates working with sexual assault victims navigating the criminal justice system to understand that, whether or not a discrete issue presents itself, victims have the right to retain legal counsel should they wish.
1. As Module 2 explained, in the criminal justice system the prosecutor represents the state, not the victim - whose role is as a witness.