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Legal aid lawyers get training on how to help victims of sexual assault, domestic violence

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Legal aid lawyers are in Quebec City this week to receive training on how to better help victims of sexual violence or domestic abuse.

When victims decided to speak-up in recent years, much of Quebec's justice system was ill-equipped to deal with the human aspect of the abuse. Lawyers knew the law, but rarely knew the impact on the victims, which is why a team of community-oriented lawyers called Juripop launched a program to provide their colleagues with the appropriate training.

"I remember when the Me Too movement started in 2017, us at Juripop, I have to say, we were among the first few lawyers who were speaking out about the need for the legal system to change. And fast-forward six years later, I personally, really witnessed a change in the legal community," said Sophie Gagnon, Juripop's director.

In many cases, the training is as basic as finding out the right resources when a victim seeks help. A lot of it is legal language.

"The workshop helped a lot of people in the room get the basics of what tests to apply, how to procedurally bring the case and provide a draft of the procedure," said Andrea Kowalski, a training lawyer.

"My training today is really directed to family lawyers that are practising in family law. The message will absolutely be different if I am speaking to other types of lawyers like criminal law," said Roxane Charpentier, another training participant.

The training is now being applied to the thousands seeking legal help every year. This year's training is attracting twice as many participants as last year. Those who signed up say there's an obvious need for direction.

"As lawyers, as organizations, we're just part of a bigger justice system so this day is just mainly right now a reminder of working together as a team," said training lawyer Clara De Pue.

The next step is ensuring that judges are also brought up to speed when dealing with domestic violence and sexual assault.

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