By Ellen C. Opdyke, Esq., Supervising Attorney
MCASA’s Sexual Assault Legal Institute (SALI) opened in 2003 in Silver Spring, Maryland. It was funded by the US Department of Justice, Office of Violence Against Women as part of a nationwide effort to include sexual violence in efforts to end violence against women. Shortly after, the Maryland Legal Services Corporation contributed support and SALI was able to add services for children who have been sexually abused. Services for child sexual abuse victims continue to be the area of greatest need. In 2009, SALI added a Crime Survivors Initiative (CSI), a program specifically aimed at protecting crime victims’ rights to be informed, present, and heard in the criminal justice system.
SALI is one of the only legal services programs in the country that is devoted to serving sexual assault survivors. The vast majority of legal services programs that work with survivors are primarily domestic violence organizations and very few work with child sexual abuse survivors. SALI’s founder and MCASA Counsel, Lisae C. Jordan, consults regularly with coalitions and non-profits across the country seeking to create similar programs to help survivors. Here in Maryland, SALI has grown from one attorney and a paralegal to 4 lawyers, 2 advocates and a cadre of law student interns who come from all across the country to work at SALI. SALI is devoted to survivor-centered advocacy and respect for client decision-making.
Over 1,300 individual survivors of sexual assault and abuse have been provided with direct civil and criminal legal services. For more information on the types of cases SALI handles, click here
SALI also helps shape policy through amicus work and advocacy with the court. SALI was the lead amicus
(“friend of the court”) in State v. Baby,
404 Md. 220 (2007), a case successfully establishing that post-penetration rape is a crime in Maryland; signed on to the brief in State v. Snowden
, 385 Md. 64 (2004), a case involving the admissibility of a child’s hearsay statements in child sexual abuse cases, and recently advocated for protection of sexual assault victim information and privacy in court rules regarding electronic case filing.
When SALI first opened its doors, many survivors of sexual violence and those working with survivors were not aware of potential legal issues outside the criminal justice system. Since 2003, the rape crisis centers of MCASA have increased their capacity to recognize survivors’ legal needs and continually refer clients to SALI. SALI prides itself on its close connection to MCASA’s member programs and provides legal information and technical assistance to the rape crisis centers and staff.
Outside of the courtroom, SALI has trained over 2,000 professionals and others working with survivors, including victim advocates, prosecutors, legal services and private attorneys, nurses, law enforcement, college peer advocates, counselors and other mental health professionals. Legal materials have also been created to help survivors and those working with them. These include:
- Identifying Legal Issues for Victims of Sexual Assault: A Checklist for Survivors, available in English and Spanish;
- Understanding the Legal System When Your Child Has Been Sexually Abused, also available in English and Spanish;
- Child Sexual Abuse: A Guide for Children’s Attorneys and Other Court Professionals; and the
- SALI Maryland Sexual Assault Law Manual.
In Maryland, SALI has helped change the legal landscape for survivors of sexual assault and increase access to justice.
To contact SALI, call 301-565-2277 or 877-496-3619 (toll-free).
This article is part of the Fall 2012 issue of Frontline.