Many sexual assault survivors unaware free legal help is available


Sexual assault is not just a criminal justice issue. Sexual assault is a public health and human rights issue that profoundly affects victims, their loved ones and society.

Nearly 1 in 3 adult Texans will experience some form of sexual assault in their lifetime. In more than 70 percent of sexual assault cases, the perpetrator is someone within the victim’s circle of trust — a family member, friend or co-worker. In all cases, the experience is traumatic and life-altering.

Physical injuries are accompanied by emotional, legal and economic consequences. Survivors often feel helpless, scared and ashamed. Some even blame themselves and are reluctant to report or prosecute the assailant. And while trying to heal physically and emotionally, survivors must also confront legal issues that extend far beyond navigating the criminal justice system.

Common legal issues arising in the aftermath of sexual assault involve safety and family violence concerns, access to health insurance and disability benefits, time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act, immigration processes, privacy interests, educational effects, Crime Victims’ Compensation claims and housing issues. Many sexual assault survivors are unaware that free legal help is just a phone call away.

As part of an annual empowerment campaign, April is nationally recognized as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Among other initiatives this year, the Texas judiciary is working with the Texas Access to Justice Foundation to raise awareness that free legal help is available through the Legal Aid for Survivors of Sexual Assault network.

By calling LASSA’s toll-free number — 1-844-303-7233 (SAFE) — survivors who qualify for legal aid can connect with advocates who provide free legal advice and referral to legal aid providers across the state. Through LASSA, sexual assault survivors can obtain help with safety and financial concerns, including securing a protective order; resolving child custody, child support and domestic violence issues; ensuring a safer working, educational or housing environment; and safeguarding their privacy.

Established in 2015, the LASSA initiative was made possible with $10 million in funding from the 84th session of the Texas Legislature. With that funding, the Texas Access to Justice Foundation provides grants to nine nonprofit organizations throughout the state to provide free legal services to survivors of sexual assault. LASSA grantees provide a range of free legal services; community, law enforcement and leadership training; and other resources and materials for sexual assault survivors.

In addition to legal advice and representation, LASSA has established relationships with domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers across Texas, enabling its providers to offer immediate assistance in response to a call for help. LASSA advocates also partner with colleges and universities to prioritize sexual assault awareness and prevention. LASSA leverages its academic partnerships to help ensure faculty and administrators are responsive to allegations of sexual assault and understand their legal obligations to survivors.

In the short time since its founding, LASSA has provided legal assistance to 4,500 sexual assault survivors, serving as a lifeline that enables survivors to protect themselves and move forward with their lives.

With continued financial support from the Texas Legislature, a community of legal advocates across the state will remain available to assist sexual assault survivors with the challenges that lie ahead. For free services that protect victims and their families from the safety, financial and legal ramifications of sexual violence, just call 1-844-303-7233 (SAFE).

A network of dedicated souls stands ready, willing and able to help.

Guzman has served as a justice on 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.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Opinion

Letters to the editor: July 24, 2017
Letters to the editor: July 24, 2017

Like many others, I find it strange that a state government that styles itself as conservative — against “big” government, and in favor of citizens’ rights — would be against local governments establishing ordinances to protect their trees. Is it that those trying to micromanage us from Austin are so deep into the pockets...
Opinion: Why would you want Putin as a friend?

Leaving aside the question as to whether there was actual collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government during the 2016 election, it is undisputed that candidate Donald Trump was eager for a friendship between our two nations. The most recent accounts of the president seeking out more one-on-one time with Putin at the G-20 dinner...
COMMENTARY: Wait for Trump to sabotage your health care

Is Trumpcare finally dead? Even now, it’s hard to be sure, especially given Republican moderates’ long track record of caving in to extremists at crucial moments. But it does look as if the frontal assault on the Affordable Care Act has failed. And let’s be clear: The reason this assault failed wasn’t that Donald Trump did a...
Opinion: This isn't the first U.S. opiate-addiction crisis
Opinion: This isn't the first U.S. opiate-addiction crisis

The U.S. is in the throes of an "unprecedented opioid epidemic," the Centers for Disease Control reports. The crisis has spurred calls for action to halt the rising death toll, which has devastated many rural communities. It's true that there's an opioid epidemic, a public health disaster. It's not true that it's unprecedented. A remarkably...
Herman: Austin pioneers resting in peace in ABIA flight path
Herman: Austin pioneers resting in peace in ABIA flight path

Welcome to the latest installment of “What Is That?” Today we’re off to a cemetery in a highway interchange. So that’s kind of different. Today’s inquiry comes from Austinite Sherry Statman who thinks she’s come across bodies buried near the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Maybe you’ve seen them...
More Stories