A few days ago, I received a request for technical support and assistance from an attorney in western New York. This isn’t out of the ordinary – Empire Justice is known as an excellent resource for technical assistance on certain types of complex civil legal matters.
This attorney had a client* who had gone through an experience that required delicate and sympathetic handling: the nonconsensual recording and distribution of intimate photographs of the client to the client’s family members. The shame, humiliation, and sense of betrayal experienced by the client were unbearable. This person, hesitant to contact the police, wanted to know if there were other legal options, and if there was someone who could provide non-legal support as they tried to cope with the devastating ramifications of this crime.
Fortunately, we were able to refer the attorney to a new legal resource designed to help victims of crime: the newly launched NY Crime Victims Legal Help.
NY Crime Victims Legal Help is an online resource that connects victims of crime to civil (non-criminal) legal information, resources, and services. The website is currently being piloted in the counties of Erie, Niagara, and Genesee.
Funded through a $1.5 million federal grant obtained by the New York State Office of Victim Services (OVS), the website is the result of a collaboration among that agency, the Center for Human Services Research at the University at Albany, Pro Bono Net, and Empire Justice Center. Working in partnership with an Advisory Committee, the goal was to create a legal assistance network that would address the civil legal needs that New Yorkers face as a result of criminal victimization. The help of hundreds of crime victims and their service providers has been instrumental in the creation of the website, which is the centerpiece of our Network.
According to stats from the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), there were more than 190,000 violent or property crimes reported in counties outside of New York City in 2017. These are only the cases that were reported to the police, and we know from our Needs Assessment that a significant percentage of victims never report the crime or seek help.
There were a number of reasons why crime victims didn’t always seek help. The strongest were:
- They didn’t know what services were available.
- They didn’t think anything could be done.
- They thought they could deal with the issue on their own.
NY Crime Victims Legal Help was designed to assist exactly these individuals.
The online resource was created with the specific needs of crime victims in mind. We wanted the site to be welcoming and accessible, contain information that’s easy to find and easy to understand, and be simple to use on any mobile device. Even the images on the homepage were chosen to reflect the diversity of people who are survivors of crime, while also conveying hope and strength, because individuals are more than just their victimization, and positive outcomes are also a reality – especially when people are able to access the help they need.
A Legal Help Directory is available so that users can easily find legal assistance in their area. Simply select your county and your legal issue to find legal help near you. Because more than 1/3 of the crime victims in our survey reported that no one informed them of their rights as a victim, we wanted to make sure that users of the site could easily obtain this information. The Know Your Rights library contains information about your rights as a crime victim in criminal court, as well as particular protections and general information on some of the top areas of legal need identified by both victims and providers: Family, Housing, Employment, Money, and Immigration. The Find Legal Forms section has links to blank forms and online programs that can help you create the necessary court documents. Finally, the Get Started option offers users a way of accessing all these features at once.
Currently, the Legal Help Directory and Get Started tool can only generate results for the Erie, Niagara, and Genesee counties, but the Know Your Rights information and DIY Forms are available to anyone. In 2019, our goal is to expand the legal content on the website, expand the technological features of the online resources, and expand the geographical scope of the NY Crime Victims Legal Help to include all regions in New York State outside of New York City.
We’re piloting the site in order to get useful feedback about its utility for both people who have been victims of crimes and for service providers. Is the information easy to understand and helpful? Are there sections that should be simplified, or expanded? Are there subtopics within the Know Your Rights section that need to be included? When we expand the legal content, what legal issues should be addressed and what areas of victimization should be included?
Whether you are a civil legal attorney, a human service provider, a victim advocate, or a crime victim, your continued guidance, involvement, and support are vital to the improvement of this project. Contact me with any thoughts, concerns, or ideas for improving the online resource, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to get involved with the Crime Victims Legal Network.
Knowledge is power. Think of all of the people this network can help, if they only knew about it. Spread the word!
(*Details of the attorney, client, and case were charged or omitted to protect the individual’s privacy.)