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Even though 20% of the population in the U.S. lives in rural areas, only 2% of law practices conduct business in rural communities. This gap can be especially difficult for victims of crimes, who often face significant challenges and few resources. They might have few options for counsel or none at all, and transportation challenges can make connecting with an attorney even harder. But, technology many of us take for granted is now being leveraged to help extend legal resources to those living outside American cities.
According to the Office for Victims of Crime, a division of the Department of Justice, crime victims in rural communities face unique roadblocks when it comes to asserting their legal rights. People tend to be reluctant to report violence, wage theft, and shoplifting in smaller communities for fear of how others in the community will react. Rural towns often have fewer counseling resources for survivors of domestic violence.
Moreover, victims of federal crimes often must travel long distances to reach a federal courthouse when they live in a rural area. And finally, those in rural communities have a difficult time finding an attorney they trust because they are forced to forge those relationships over the phone.
Using funds from the OVC, the National Crime Victim Law Institute recently issued three subgrants to programs aimed at helping crime victims in rural communities. One such program in South Carolina, using technology to help crime victims in rural communities not only find an affordable attorney but also better communicate with them. The South Carolina Victim Assistance Network (SCVAN) utilizes video conferencing (mostly via smartphones) to help foster a more personal connection with an attorney. By using video calls rather than traditional phone conferences, clients can put a face to the name of the person helping them. And in some cases, the comfort that comes with that can make all the difference.