When we read or hear about cases of sexual harassment or assault in the news, the focus is usually on criminal charges, the kind where outcomes are decided by a judge and jury and the accused might be convicted or jailed. The unfortunate truth is, with the criminal system, the well-being of trauma survivors – the “victims” – is not a top priority. One of our earlier posts talks about how few sexual assault cases are actually investigated by the police and the low number that make it to criminal court. In addition, the trauma survivor is not directly represented in these types of cases. During a criminal trial, a survivor can be called on to publicly testify about their experiences, which can be re-traumatizing and involve invasive questioning in front of an audience. As a result, survivors are often left feeling powerless.
If you’re seeking justice, even after a criminal case is over, you could pursue a civil case. In civil court, it’s about finding different solutions that hold the abuser (and potentially others) responsible for their actions. Part of that process, and contrary to the criminal system, will be to choose a lawyer you feel comfortable with and that you trust. This is important, since you’ll need to talk about your experiences and share details with them that could make you feel uncomfortable or triggered.
When selecting a lawyer, here are a few key things to consider:
You are in charge
Your lawyer should acknowledge that you lead the way and that it’s up to you if and when you want to move forward with a case. A good lawyer will explain each step of the civil litigation process and ensure you understand their advice before making any decisions. You deserve to feel empowered when you share your story, which includes deciding with who you meet with at the firm and understanding why certain questions are asked.
Look for support
You’ve been through an extremely difficult and traumatic time, and you may need a wider support system to help find ways to cope with these experiences. Your lawyer not only helps with your legal questions, but can also point you to referrals for therapists or counsellors and local support groups.
It’s your interview, too
When you first speak with a lawyer about a potential case, it’s an introductory interview of sorts. This is your opportunity to ask about their background with cases like yours and to get a feel for how comfortable you are sharing your experiences with them. Think about the kind of lawyer you’d like to work with: do you want someone who is business-like and more formal, or someone with a warmer approach when talking with you? This first meeting is the perfect chance for you to understand what you’re looking for in a lawyer.
Going through a legal case of any kind is not easy, but your lawyer should help prepare you for the process and provide you with support at every turn. You need to feel confident in your choice of who you work with, knowing they will find a balance between being your legal service provider and someone you’ve entrusted with your story.