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Research

New Research to Examine Legal Services for Sexual Assault Survivors

Jane Palmer

AU School of Public Affairs Professorial Lecturer Jane Palmer has been selected for a Victim Research-to-Practice Fellowship to study the civil and legal needs of sexual assault survivors in partnership with the Victim Rights Law Center (VRLC) headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts. She will receive $15,000 through the Center for Victim Research, which was created to meet the need for increased statistical data, evidence-based practices, and program evaluation to guide victim service providers, policymakers, and funders.

Palmer will use the funding to study the innovative work of the VRLC. The nonprofit organization is the first in the country to focus on providing free legal assistance to sexual assault survivors in the critical areas of privacy, safety, housing, employment, education, and immigration.

“Within my area of research related to the legal and policy responses to violence against women, I see this as a very promising and under-researched area,” says Palmer, director of the Community-Based Research Scholars Program at AU, with whom VRLC shared approximately 300 redacted cases. “I want to learn from these files about the challenges and benefits associated with these kinds of legal services.”

The purpose of the fellowship is to encourage collaboration between victim researchers and service providers to improve assistance and services for victims of crime. The fellowship will allow Palmer to hire a research assistant to help with qualitative case review to complement earlier quantitative research supported by a 2015 Faculty Research Support grant from AU. Through their mixed-methods analysis, the researchers hope to gain a better understanding of the extent to which these services are helpful by understanding survivors’ experiences in seeking these services, discerning patterns in how long cases take, and determining whether victims received the resolution they were seeking. The project is focused on cross-learning, in which Palmer will participate in professional development offered by VRLC and share her knowledge and skills related to research and evaluation with the organization.

“We are honored to partner with Dr. Palmer to analyze the true impact civil legal services can have on stabilizing the lives of sexual assault survivors post-assault,” says VRLC’s Executive Director Stacy Malone.

Palmer plans to turn the research results into a report for practitioners as well as user-friendly fact sheets, webinars, podcasts, and peer-reviewed journal articles about this unique approach to helping survivors utilize civil legal remedies in the aftermath of sexual assault.

“I hope it will encourage other organizations or attorneys to expand their services and educate survivors that these are options available beyond the criminal legal system,” says Palmer.