Recourse for Survivors

Solace Sexual Assault Services launches legal advocacy fund for sexual assault survivors

A donation from a sexual assault survivor who was paid a settlement in a lawsuit will help Solace Sexual Assault Services establish a legal advocacy fund that financially supports legal services for other survivors.

“We are incredibly moved to share the inception of a new advocacy fund, established by a courageous survivor whose journey through crisis to empowerment symbolizes the very essence of our mission,” a newsletter announcing the fund Monday reads. ”Her harrowing experience, from the shock of assault through the labyrinth of legal recourse, highlights the daunting financial barriers many survivors face.”

Executive Director María José Rodríguez Cádiz says the fund—$10,000 so far—will complement Solace’s broader advocacy services for survivors, which includes educating survivors about their legal rights; referring survivors to social services such emergency financial assistance and housing; and providing emotional support during forensic interviews, court appearances, grand jury testimony and other legal proceedings.

“[The fund] was [the donor’s] way, from her case settlement, to make a path for other survivors, so they don’t have to be preoccupied if they don’t have the money to obtain advocacy or to retain legal counsel,” Cádiz said at an Oct. 25 event commemorating the organization’s 51st anniversary. The nonprofit was known as the Santa Fe Rape Crisis and Trauma Center until 2010.

At the event, Solace’s education and prevention manager Mary Beth Lindsey read a letter the donor, who asked to remain anonymous.

“Six years ago, I walked into this space scared, in shock and utterly alone. Less than 48 hours earlier, I’d been sexually assaulted by my new supervisor while at a work conference,” the letter reads. “I had no idea what I was doing or how to move through those first difficult weeks. Solace provided the crisis care I needed in those early days to simply put one foot in front of the other.”

The donor says Solace’s support allowed her to begin a campaign for legal recourse, aided by attorneys John Day of Santa Fe and Nick Davis of Albuquerque—which resulted in the perpetrator being put on the sex offender registry for life.

Lindsey highlighted other organizations working in-house with Solace’s counseling and clinical services—including the Santa Fe Police Department’s Special Victims Unit, sexual assault nurse examiners from Christus St. Vincent and advocates from the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center—as a necessary step in reducing survivors’ trauma.

“Having this space, it feels less institutionalized than a police station or a hospital—people are going to come in here, and all these professionals are able to work together and speak to each case quickly in real-time,” Lindsey said.

In her letter, the donor says her gift to the fund is her way aiding sexual assault survivors who navigate a legal system that she is not designed for victims.

“I had to fight hard for myself with the knowledge that I couldn’t change the past, but I could protect myself and other women in the future,” the donor says in her letter. “Financial barriers to legal costs can dissuade survivors from pressing charges and pursuing legal action. I couldn’t have navigated this landscape without the legal advocacy and services I received from many sources along the way…Today, I am proud to pay it forward with financial support to Solace, and the survivors they serve, by establishing this Legal Advocacy Fund for survivors of sexual assault.”

The fund also serves in remembrance of Philip Davis, an Albuquerque civil rights attorney “who tirelessly advocated for plaintiffs in state and federal civil rights claims” and died in February last year. Cádiz says the nonprofit will next work to secure additional donations for the fund, including matching grants, a web site dedicated to the fund and community events like Solace’s Giving Tuesday appeal.

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