Unique video series helping young people understand their legal rights

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A series of videos produced by community legal centre, Youthlaw, is helping young people better understand their rights and access the legal information they need. The first Beyond Appearances series is used in police training and aims to improve relationships between homeless young people and police. A second series educates youth workers and other professionals about legal issues affecting young people. The most recent Street Law Series helps young people to know their rights and avoid getting into legal trouble with Police and Protective Services Officers.

 Youthlaw has found that videos work to make complex legal issues and processes easier to understand. We spoke to Annie Davis, Education Co-ordinator and Outreach Lawyer, at Youthlaw, to find out more.

This is the third time the foundation has funded you to use videos for community legal education.  Why do you keep returning to this medium?

We find videos are an excellent way to get a message across to people and get them thinking about the law and young people in a different way. People anywhere with access to the internet can access videos online and get the legal information they need quickly and easily, It’s also a great way to get information across to young people who are not confident reading or writing because of literacy issues, or to new migrants with limited English.

We started with our series Beyond Appearances in collaboration with Frontyard Youth Services as a way to try and improve relationships and understanding between homeless young people and police in the CBD area. The video is still being used by police in their training. It features young homeless people sharing their experiences of sleeping rough and their interactions with police, both positive and negative, which is really powerful.

Our second series, educates youth workers and other professionals who work with young people about legal issues affecting them. With the help of a cartoonist, the videos were able to make often complex legal issues and processes easier to understand. The videos have been viewed several thousand times. It is a fantastic way for workers to get the training they need as our in-person seminars were often booked out and not always in a location for remote and regional workers to be able to attend.

Our most recent Street Law series tells the story of a young person who comes across a police officer or a Protective Services Officer (PSO). We hope that by watching these videos, young people will be inspired to find out what the law says in each situation and this knowledge might help them or their peers avoid getting into legal troubles by misunderstanding police or PSO powers in future. We also hope that the series will empower young people who may feel marginalised by their treatment by police or PSOs by linking them up with easy-to-understand information about what their rights are and how to make a complaint if those rights are violated.

Your videos generally tell stories to highlight a legal issue.  Why is this effective?

We’re finding the story-telling approach makes legal issues, which can be quite abstract and frankly boring for young people, a lot more ‘real’ for them. We’re finding they prompt serious and thoughtful discussion for young people. Young people get quite involved with the stories and want to know why, for example, the magician got a move-on notice and then a fine and what he can do about it. We hope that if they or their peers find themselves in similar situations in future they will recall what we talked about during the session and go back to our website to find out what the law says and how they can seek legal help.

 Your videos have young people, even some of your clients, informing the scenarios? What are the advantages/disadvantages of creating peer-supported community legal education? 

The stories in the videos were developed in collaboration with students at Youthworx Media and most were based on real experiences. The students there also gave us a lot of feedback and guidance on how to make the videos engaging. Their input has been crucial to the success of these videos as we’re finding young people watching the videos can relate to the stories and the characters.

Peer-supported community legal education has been so beneficial to this project but perhaps just make sure you have enough lead-in time and resources to make collaboration as effective and fruitful as you can – in retrospect it would have been great to have more time and greater scope to involve young people in a project like this even more.

Your videos have used animation and live action footage – how do you choose which filming method?

We ended up using animation for a number of reasons, such as restrictions on filming in locations such as train stations and representing the police and PSO characters convincingly. Another important reason is that it would be confronting for a young person appearing in one of the films to become a recognisable ‘poster boy’/’poster girl’ for, say, weapons searches. Instead, we had young people narrate the stories in their own words and characters as cartoons as way to get around that issue but still keep their voice authentic.

How do you choose the topics for your films?

We were finding more young people were coming to us for legal information and advice about interactions with police as well as PSOs following their introduction to metropolitan train stations over the past few years. With changes to the law, search powers have become a lot more complex. We were concerned that some young people were getting into legal trouble for things like resisting police or refusing to state their name and address, when if they had understood the law in that situation, they might have responded differently. We then consulted with Youthworx students to pinpoint what aspects of the laws around police powers and PSOs young people were most unsure about.

How do your videos reach their target audience?

The videos are available online on the Street Law page of our website at www.youthlaw.asn.au/street-law and you can find them on our Youtube channel www.youtube.com/youthlegal. We released and promoted each episode through social media, such as our Facebook page and Twitter account. We also have a limited number of DVDs available to order and an Education Kit for youth workers, teachers or others who work with young people to use.

What’s the next 12 months look like for Youthlaw?

We just secured funding to develop a mobile and tablet-friendly website that will work much like an app and which we hope will make legal information about dealing with police and other authorities even more accessible We’re consulting with young people to find out exactly what legal information they most want to know about and how we can best get that information to them using a mobile or tablet-friendly website. We’re hoping to incorporate the video content we’ve produced in Street Law into that resource so it has a second life into 2014-5. We’ve also been fortunate to have our Youthlaw Online program funding continue on so we can deliver more legal services in more responsive ways to young people living in remote, regional and rural areas across Victoria.

Apply for Victoria Law Foundation’s General Grants to support your legal project by 18 March 2014.  Visit our website, to find out more.