Q: What legal access challenges are unique to rural populations that experience victimization?

A: While many of us may think of rural America as idyllic, data tells a story of high rates of victimization and myriad hurdles for victims of crime, including a lack of services, limited infrastructure to aid access to the services that do exist, geographic challenges, and language access. Gaps in the availability of legal services in rural areas are particularly profound – although 20% of the country lives in rural areas, just 2% of small law practices are located in rural areas.To address this gap, the federal Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) envisioned a national effort that would build upon existing models of victim services and use of technology to strengthen access to legal services, establish new no-cost and low- and pro bono service delivery models, and expand community partnerships to holistically serve the legal needs of rural crime victims. NCVLI is the recipient of this grant and through it has issued three subgrants.

Q: What are some examples of the technology developed by each Rural Site?

A: Examples of types of technology include: websites with robust resource directories, live chat, physical spaces set up with secure technology at accessible community locations, and online portals to facilitate remote communication with pro bono attorneys.

Q: The technology deployed in this project has mostly existed for a long time - how is that “innovative”?

A: Some of this technology may have existed before the beginning of this project, but its use in serving survivors in these rural communities was something that could not be robustly employed before this grant provided the funding necessary to take that step. This project has been successful by meeting victims and communities where they are. Our partners have tailored existing technology to reach victims of crime in Rural areas based on the needs identified by the communities – and has done so in myriad ways, ranging from website resources to video tools that allow for long-distance meetings with attorneys or even to facilitate remote access to courtroom hearings.

Q: How can we develop our own technology project if we don’t have expertise in-house?

A: Many partners exist in the community, including schools, social services organizations and other partners. In addition, some “tech solutions” are achievable without in-house expertise, and can be found with the help of our organizations like our TTA partner National Network to End Domestic Violence NNEDV’s Tech Safety Project .

Q: Technological solutions can be expensive; couldn’t victims be worse off when the project ends if all the technology simply goes away?

A: Sustainability is an important part of meeting survivors’ needs and ensuring that projects like this one can continue to benefit victims and communities long-term. Many different efforts can help increase the sustainability of a project like this one, such as partnering with an organization that can help to support the cost of hosting physical sites to facilitate access or the cost of maintaining technology and/or hardware for longer periods of time. And it is worth mentioning that this project wasn’t only about the technology; each project location worked hard to cultivate relationships with partners throughout their geographic locations, to help increase access to services beyond technology infrastructure and help promote victim access to legal services in the aftermath of crime.

Q: Rural areas often do not have enough attorneys to meet their communities’ legal needs. How can you leverage technology to help overcome that issue?

A: Organizations can implement effective free or low-cost legal services projects by identifying attorney populations throughout the larger area, recognizing obstacles such as geography, time constraints, or cost, and leveraging technology to help mitigate these challenges. Technology can help connect a wider population of attorneys (throughout a state, for example) to underserved rural communities by facilitating remote representation, providing remote skills training, and remotely sharing information to help attorneys invest in the communities that need help.

Q: How do you sustain the pro bono support you develop long-term?

A: Organizations can sustain their pro bono networks by helping them to invest in communities, form strong connections with community partners, and work with partners to provide ongoing training and support.

Q: Although legal access projects focus on the essential role of legal representation for clients’ stability, crime victims navigating trauma may not be in a space to prioritize it. What holistic practices help you to earn your clients’ trust and communicate how legal representation can help?

A: Partnerships are key in this role. Developing relationships with social services providers, fostering strong referral networks for healthcare/shelter/safety needs, having language access plans and services, and ensuring secure delivery of services (via technology, location, etc.) are all vital to ensuring clients feel safer because of your services. Showing that your attorneys have a holistic understanding of these needs and illustrating ways you can provide comprehensive advocacy can help your clients.

Q: How can I know which technology tools will provide the most benefit for the clients our organization serves?

A: Asking the community partners already serving your community can help you identify helpful tools. The Rural Sites on this project conducted formal and/or informal needs assessments with their respective communities, clients and partners. To learn more about the technology that already exists that may be able to help meet the needs you identify, organizations that assess technology as part of their work, including our partner National Network to End Domestic Violence Tech Safety Project’s Digital Services Toolkit, can be a great place to start.

Q: I am an attorney working with a victim on a legal issue and need information on victims’ rights, how can you help?

A: NCVLI can provide research, writing and strategic advice on cases to help protect victims’ rights. Click here to fill out a technical assistance request or explore additional resources on our National Alliance for Victims’ Rights Attorneys and Advocates website.

Q: What is NCVLI’s role in the Increasing Legal Access to Rural Victims of Crime Project?

A: In 2017, OVC funded NCVLI to coordinate a national effort to leverage innovative technologies to improve the delivery of holistic, comprehensive legal services to crime victims in rural areas, while also protecting victim privacy and safety and advocating for crime victims’ rights. In 2018, NCVLI competitively solicited and selected the three rural agencies to establish demonstration sites, and is providing training and technical assistance to aid in their development. Throughout the Project, NCVLI has assisted each site with crafting an implementation plan, identifying and developing innovative technology solutions, responding to privacy and safety concerns, building strong partnerships, developing policies and resources, and providing holistic legal services to crime victims. NCVLI is also facilitating cross-site collaboration, conducting program evaluation, and documenting promising practices to inform the field.

Q: The survivors I serve often don’t have ready access to technology because Internet access in our rural areas tends to be unreliable. What other ways of reaching survivors in rural areas are there?

A: Technology does not need to be cutting edge; telephones can be a great resource. Our sites found different ways to provide access to Rural survivors, based on the needs they identified in their communities. For example, the Project Site in Montana conducted personal outreach to local organizations in small communities across the state, logging hundreds of hours and miles to create the person-to-person connections that can help facilitate telephone-based referrals to connect victims to legal services. In addition, local organizations can often help connect survivors with attorneys if the organization itself has technology access they can share when the clients they serve do not. Arizona and South Carolina, for example, installed hardware in secure locations in their communities where victims can go to access technology and resources and to connect remotely with attorneys providing legal representation.

Q: How can I learn more about incorporating innovative technology into my organization’s services to help crime victims as demonstrated by these three Rural Sites?

A: If you have additional questions beyond what is shared, we will have a recording of a webinar providing information about the technology each Site implemented explained by the partners at the Sites themselves.