Other Voices

Help for sex assault victims just a phone call away. Here’s how

Famous kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart wants to be a voice for victims

Elizabeth Smart, who survived being kidnapped when she was 14, was in Fort Worth to talk about surviving trauma and to speak out against human trafficking.
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Elizabeth Smart, who survived being kidnapped when she was 14, was in Fort Worth to talk about surviving trauma and to speak out against human trafficking.

In Texas, 40 percent of women and 20 percent of men have experienced sexual violence at some point in their lives.

For complex psychological and sociological reasons, most of those assaults are never reported to the authorities and most rapists continue to walk free, with only 3 percent ever spending even a single day in jail.

But sexual assault is not just a criminal justice concern; it’s a traumatic human rights and public health issue that combines physical injuries with emotional, legal and economic ramifications that can haunt survivors and their loved ones for years.

This is why, as a community, we must give our attention to the immediate and long-term consequences of sexual assault, and commit to helping victims on the road to recovery.

In the aftermath of sexual assault, a host of legal issues can arise — safety and financial concerns at home, work, or school; alternative housing needs; privacy issues; child‑custody, child‑support and domestic‑violence needs; time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act; Crime Victims’ Compensation claims; and access to health insurance and disability benefits. The list is long.

Free legal help is available, but many may not know how to access those resources.

As part of an annual empowerment campaign nationally recognized as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the Texas Access to Justice Foundation is spreading the word about the availability of free legal help through the Legal Aid for Survivors of Sexual Assault (LASSA) network.

Survivors can be connected with advocates offering free legal advice and referrals to legal aid providers across Texas by calling LASSA’s toll-free number: 1-844-303-7233 (SAFE).

The prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses also has prompted LASSA advocates to partner with colleges and universities to prioritize sexual‑assault awareness and prevention. These partnerships ensure that faculty and administrators are responsive to allegations of sexual assault and understand the legal obligations to survivors.

Additionally, by establishing relationships with domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers across Texas, LASSA has created a network of providers able to offer immediate assistance in response to a call for help.

The LASSA initiative, established in 2015, has provided sexual‑assault survivors with a range of free legal services; community, law-enforcement and leadership training; and other assistive resources and materials. In only its fourth year of funding, LASSA has served as a lifeline to 10,700 sexual‑assault survivors. Legislative funding also has enabled the Texas Access to Justice Foundation to provide grants to nonprofit organizations throughout the state that work hands-on with survivors.

Adequate assistance for survivors of sexual assault is possible only by continued financial support from the Texas Legislature. Appropriate funding is critical to ensuring the committed community of legal advocates across the state is able to aid victims in a timely and effective way.

Physical and emotional healing take time, but LASSA can help sexual assault survivors begin their journey by offering free legal services that help protect victims and their families from the safety, financial and legal ramifications of sexual violence.

Help is just a phone call away.

Eva Guzman has served as a justice of the Supreme Court of Texas since 2009. She is the first Latina to be elected to the high court and to statewide office in Texas. She serves as the Texas Supreme Court’s liaison to the Texas Access to Justice Foundation.
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