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The advocate’s role includes: victim/survivor centred criminal-justice support; being forensically astute (non-investigative, non-evidentiary); liaising with key justice system stakeholders and representing client interests within this system where they are unable to themselves.

  • Click here for “Supporting victims through the legal process: The role of sexual assault service providers

Justice needs for victim/survivors

In her interviews with adult victim/survivors or sexual violence, Hayley Clark (2010)  identified from respondents five areas of justice needs: information, validation, voice, control and outcomes. These justice needs along with system experiences are summarised in the table by Haley Clark (2010) linked below:

Rather than simply focusing on making the justice journey “less traumatic” or working with the victim/survivor on a singular goal of conviction of the perpetrator, there are now a number of domain areas, each with some very specific areas for advocates and victim/survivors to focus attention on.  This is particularly important as the majority of cases are not progressed through to conviction of the perpetrator.  So for example, if justice for the victim/survivor is linked to public safety and the perpetrator was not convicted, then s/he might participate in a community prevention program to satisfy that need.

Below is an excellent example by Carolyn Worth (2010) from the  SE Centre Against Sexual Assault of addressing justice needs from a victim/survivor’s perspective in this 3 minute video:

A close look at this video will reveal many of the justice needs identified by Haley Clark being addressed.  Information provided was clear, comprehensive, concise, informative balanced and based on experience. Validation from the magistrate was highlighted through the criminal compensation tribunal.  Voice – “you can have your day in court” – again via the criminal compensation process. Additional voice options were included in the variety of reporting options Outcomes “…90% of the time the magistrates will say, …I have no doubt that happened” and “…for some people it’s actually a really healing process.”

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Contact
Amanda Paton

Phone Number
08 9391 1900

Email
apaton@parkerville.org.au

Information

Other US research suggests rates of reporting do, in fact, increase with support through the justice system: women supported by an advocate “were significantly more likely to have police reports taken and were less likely to be treated negatively by police officers” (Campbell, 2006, p. 30). It appears that re-victimisation by the legal system is reduced when people feel believed by a professional and prepared for trial (Ellison, 2007).

Ideally, the type of information provided to victim/survivors should be done in consultation with key stakeholders such as witness support services staff, prosecutors, police, child protection workers and forensic medical staff.  As in the above video, the aim is to provide consistent, realistic and balanced information.  Having input from front-line professionals helps with accuracy of information, personalises the information and assists with interagency coordination.  In addition, questions like, “what’s the two or three most important things I need to say to the client” or “what’s some of the typical things which happen”, and “how do you see my role?” can help develop a more three dimensional view of procedures and processes.

Sources of information

Victim Support Services

Victim support staff will often be directly involved in providing preparation and support around witness protection, child witness statements, court procedures, victim impact statements, criminal compensation as well as implications of imprisonment, release and parole.  With a strong legal background, they should be a primary source of information.

Being clear on role boundaries is especially important as there is a great deal of overlap between roles.

Visit the NSW Victim Support Services website to explain reforms to better meet the expressed needs of victims of crime.  This is a great example of advocacy in action.

National and State by State Victim of Crime Services

Click here for a listing of national, state by state and international victim support services and organisations from the Australian Institute of Criminology (updated April 2015 – try the link below if some of the links in this listing are out of date).

Click here for additional listing of state by state victim support services from Tasmanian Victim Support Services.

Justice Journey

Below are examples from the NSW Attorney General & Justice Victim Services of resource materials which can be used for both victim/survivors as well as those who support them – including those with an advocacy role:

  • Click here for Justice Journey – Six steps in the justice system clearly explained (NSW but most can be applied to other jurisdictions.).
  • Click here for Going to Court: 10 embedded videos, also available as a DVD on the court system.  Supplementary fact sheets accompany the videos.
  • Click here for Justice Journey – Court Preparation Guide Supporting victims and witnesses of crime through the court process (2012) 62 page booklet (PDF) with information and tips primarily aimed at supporters of victim/survivors – also to be used with the supplementary fact sheets.
  • Click here for Courtwise – Interactive games and resources for children and young people as well as adults.

Validation, Voice, Control, Outcomes

Haley Clark (2010) has already discussed each of these points. The challenge for advocates, is once having read this nine page article, is to: inquire about the specific justice needs of each victim/survivor and explore creative ways to meet those needs.

Non-investigative, non-evidentiary support and legally astute

To protect the confidentiality and nature of the advocate-client relationship as well as role of the advocate being on the client’s side, procedures should be in place to avoid the advocate becoming part of the evidence where possible.

Watch the video of Kathleen Parker,  a former child advocate at the George Jones Child Advocacy Centre, giving an example of advocating for a child in the criminal-justice system.

Disclosure

An advocate does not need to know the details of the sexual violence in order to support a victim/survivor well.  Non-investigative, non-evidentiary support essentially means the advocate should avoid seeking information about the assault, this is the role of investigators and later, if required, the trauma therapist.  Investigators should not ask advocates to seek information on their behalf, this is not appropriate and compromised the independence of the advocate.  

However, in the context of a relationship built on trust and respect, the victim/survivor may make unsolicited disclosures of details relating to an assault.  In this case, the advocate should:

  • record the nature and detail of the disclosure;
  • retain the record for future consideration as to its status for potential legal disclosure
  • discuss with the victim/survivor potential implications of the disclosure/information and plan next steps (e.g. is the first disclosure of another offence, is this something the investigator may need to know, is this something the victim may wish to explore with a therapist)

All details will be kept as confidential as possible.  However, if there’s a police investigation or criminal prosecution linked to the assault, any material relating to it is ‘disclosable’ under the WA Criminal Procedure Act 2004 (legislation in other states is likely to be similar). This means it may have to be produced in court.  Everything will be done to ensure that advocate-client confidentiality is maintained but if a judge says that any disclosure is relevant to the case, he or she can subpoena case files [order them to be released]. If there is no investigation or prosecution, information about the victim/survivor will not be shared without their permission unless there is concern that someone else is at significant risk of harm. Local arrangements should be made for storage of any client records including disclosures and included in any protocols for sharing with investigators.

Collecting evidence

Types of evidence include: things the victim/survivor and other witnesses say, particularly statements to police and evidence given in court; situational evidence uncovered by the investigation team; and material evidence, particularly evidence obtained in a forensic medical examination.  In addition to WHAT evidence is gathered, procedures for HOW evidence is gathered can also be used in court.

The advocate roles in regard to collecting evidence include:

    • Providing the victim/survivor with options around collection of evidence, reporting to police and progressing cases
    • Providing victim/survivors and non-offending supportive family with information about collecting evidence and the investigation

Obtaining consent for some procedures which might include separate consents for an examination, storage of evidence and release of evidence.

  • Ensuring as much as possible that all procedures are victim centred
  • Maintaining/developing multi-agency coordination
  • Providing non-evidentiary emotional and practical support before, during and after procedures Click here for the Advocate Emergency Room Checklist from the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (www.taasa.org)

As much as advocates need to know how to avoid contaminating evidence, staff involved in collecting evidence and investigations need to be assured of the advocates competence in this area.  One of the ways to achieve this is for advocates and forensic staff to meet on a regular basis to discuss/refine protocols along with procedural concerns.While jurisdictions will have their own protocols and different legislation governing those protocols, the first 12 pages of the article below from the USA provides an excellent summary of key points of forensic medical examinations which is useful as a checklist against which local protocols and procedures could be reviewed:  Click here for the USA President’s Initiative (2013) A National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations: Adults/Adolescents.

Child protection

Advocates need to be aware of child protection and child welfare practices and guidelines around reporting, investigation, and options when the child if found to be at continued risk or if the child is at no further risk (click here for a simple flow chart of the child welfare processes).

NOTE: If the child is found to be at no further risk (allegation not substantiated or perpetrator is no longer a risk), the case is closed and the child exits the service.  Advocates need to track service provision to ensure continuity of support.

Advocates have moral and possibly legal responsibilities to report child abuse including sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse and neglect.  Domestic violence between caregivers is emotional abuse. Click here for “Mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect” 2014 and click here for Reporting Abuse and Neglect: State and Territory Departments for Protecting Children” (2015) both from the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Advocates may become aware of child protection issues in the contexts of children who are their primary client, siblings of the primary child client or other children who become identified as connected to the sexual assault, or where the caregiver is the primary client the advocate may develop child protection concerns about children in their client’s care.  This may also include the unborn children of pregnant women who may be at risk through things like drug use or domestic violence.

Where possible, involvement of child protective services should be engaged with the agreement of the adult caregiver in the context of providing additional support to secure child and family safety.  However, where this is not possible, the advocates first priority has to be the safety and wellbeing of the children.

See also child and family support in this site.

Resources and standards

  • Click here for Standard 8 – Works in a legal and forensic context from “Advocacy Role Standards” (Australian).
  • Click here for summary view of above standard.
  • Click here for Support victims/survivors of sexual violence through the court process National Occupational Standards (UK)
  • Click here for Support victims/survivors of sexual violence to provide evidence  National Occupational Standards (UK)
  • Click here for Supporting victims through the legal process: The role of sexual assault service providers ACSSA, 2010
  • Click here for A National Training Manual for Law Enforcement (USA) which contains amongst other legal issues the role of the victim advocate,and how this is different from victim-witness specialists.

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