Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS) is significantly expanding its legal services for those who’ve been affected by domestic abuse.
Known as “Justice Centre,” the service provides trauma, and violence informed, multilingual and culturally responsive legal services to survivors of harm.
It’s a service that Amanda Kroetsch was able to use four years ago. “I can remember being really scared and just a million things going through my mind,” Kroetsch said describing the first time he called BWSS.
She reached out after experiencing abuse from her then partner, leaving her with a brain injury. She says she found hope after her first phone call to BWSS.
“My ability to get through the whole thing was directly because of the support I got there. I don’t even know that I would have had it in me to do it.”
BWSS helped to guide her through the legal system, from filing a police report to writing a victim impact statement.
In both situations she was supported by a legal advocate, Summer Rain.
“Having the ability to formulate a justice center which situates all of those elements in one place and builds a connection between all those intersecting things is actually going to strengthen the work and the response survivors are getting,” said Summer Rain.
Their support integrates immigration, child welfare, criminal and family law. The combined approach is something Summer Rain says is unique to their organization.
“Usually that would require for different kinds of supports four different kinds of referrals to different agencies, so being able to have that wholeness, or holistic approach I like to say, is a very unique experience,” she said.
The clinic has hired four additional staff members, but members say they work with dozens of legal interns and volunteer lawyers.
The need for supportive services for gender-based violence is heightened, according to a new report from the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability.
850 women and girls were killed in Canada over the past 5 years according to the report. 82 per cent of those accused were men.
BWSS says those numbers reflect the increased number of clients they’ve seen as well.
In 2021, 11,000 survivors accessed BWSS seeking legal advocacy.
“The Justice Center is housed within a full complement of other services including crisis support, counseling support groups,” said Angela Marie MacDougall, the executive director at BWSS.
The additional supports are something MacDougall says provide a full approach to helping those affected by domestic violence.
“What we know is that 80 per cent of those who access our services, they are dealing with a legal issue and most times multiple legal issues,” he said.
BWSS services helped Kroetsch in advocating for her to use a screen in the court room, protecting her from seeing her abuser and avoiding potential PTSD triggers. The situation is something Summer Rain believes is the first of its kind for a family law case in BC
The accused was also required to participate virtually from another room, another adjustment made with the help of BWSS advocacy services.
Kroetsch says her case is still working through the court system, but plans to join BWSS in the future to support other women who’ve had similar experiences.
The address of the new center cannot be shared to protect those who are fleeing from domestic violence.