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The Victim Rights Law Center (VRLC) was first established by Susan Vickers in 2000 as a project of the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC) to fill a critical need for sexual assault victims lacking civil legal recourse to prevent the inevitable downward spiral in their social and economic lives after assault. While a law student, Susan volunteered at BARCC as a rape crisis counselor, giving her the unique experience of learning the law while seeing the real consequences of sexual assault on victims. Susan heard callers describe a myriad of legal problems as the result of sexual assault, including trouble staying in school or at their job, unsafe housing, threats to their immigration status safety and financial issues.
Susan began to question our assumption that the criminal justice system is the only appropriate legal response to rape. Statistically most survivors never report to the police for a host of reasons including widespread victim blaming, fear of retaliation, and the inevitable credibility attacks suffered by victims, thereby making any criminal justice response unavailable. Further, for those victims who do report, the criminal justice system does not offer remedies for many areas of the victim's life impacted by the assault- education, privacy, safety, immigration, housing, employment, finances. Given this landscape, Susan knew that victims needed their own lawyers to represent them. She also knew the intense scrutiny on sexual assault victims’ lives that the protections of attorney-client privilege were critical to legal representation and success. Susan focused VRLC's civil legal services on victims assaulted by non-intimate partners. She recognized that victims sexually assaulted within a domestic violence relationship benefited from some legal protections (such as restraining orders) that were unavailable to non-intimate partner victims, and funding for lawyers to represent intimate partner victims in the areas in which they typically need representation such as divorce, custody, and child support existed, even if inadequate. Susan recognized that victims of non-intimate partner sexual assault - where the assailants are co-workers, landlords, classmates, and friends- did not need family law services, but lawyers to advocate for their rights within education, housing and other civil areas.
The VRLC was launched as a separate 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2003, to focus exclusively on the complex and unexamined civil legal needs of sexual assault victims, becoming the first nonprofit law center in the nation solely dedicated to serving the legal needs of this unserved group. The VRLC continues to provide free, civil legal services to sexual assault victims in Massachusetts and has expanded nationally, through a grant from the Department of Justice, Office of Violence Against Women, to provide training and technical assistance to other organizations serving sexual assault victims throughout the country.
The mission of the Victim Rights Law Center is to provide legal representation to victims of rape and sexual assault to help rebuild their lives and to promote a national movement committed to seeking justice for every rape and sexual assault victim.