Systems and Individual Advocacy

The quote below from the NASASV 2015 “Standards of Practice Manual for Services Against Sexual Violence” not only provides a good overview of system’s advocacy but in doing so is also recommending system’s advocacy as a requirement for  agencies and professionals involved in work with victim/survivors of sexual violence”

“NASASV understands that, systems advocacy is a political process by an individual
or group which aims to influence policy and resource allocation within political,
economic and social systems and institutions. There are many forms of systems
advocacy and many activities within its spectrum.

Systems Advocacy
Systems advocacy works at the systems level aiming to benefit many and could
include, for example, raising the profile of issues in the media, promoting systems
change to government services, advocating for additional funding and programs to
address service gaps, such as increased levels of affordable safe housing.

This form of systems advocacy can be opportunistic, for example, flagging emerging
needs, contributing to policy, writing submissions and responding to inappropriate
press coverage.

Systems advocacy is not necessarily adversarial, but rather contributes to a more
respectful and just society in the face of disempowerment of those who have
experienced sexual assault.

Individual and Client Advocacy
This involves advocacy to meet the specific needs of an individual client, for
example, negotiating for client access to secure housing, mental health services and
pro-bono legal support.

Advocacy for client needs is often an ongoing component of direct service delivery,
and thus a legitimate and necessary part of each practitioner’s role. Advocacy at the
individual level may occur on behalf of the client (with their consent), or in
partnership with the client. All forms of client advocacy require consent of the client
and care must be taken to protect client confidentiality 

Client advocacy has potential to feed into higher level systems advocacy by reducing
the risk of re-victimisation and reinforcing the call for structural reform and
appropriate community responses to sexual violence.

NASASV supports and calls for advocacy and intervention strategies across the full
spectrum of prevention from primary through to tertiary.”
NASASV (2015) pp 18-19

Contact Us

Contact Details

Amanda Paton

Phone Number
08 9391 1900


Justice needs

“What annoyances are more painful than those of which we cannot complain” – Marquis De Custine

Advocacy and the many reforms in the legal and victim support areas have largely arisen out of complaints from services users and their supporters.

In her examination of justice needs of victim/survivors of sexual violence, Haley Clark (2010) not only discovered what these women didn’t like about their treatment, she also identified what they did like and what they wanted from the justice system.  These needs and wishes include validation, voice, control and outcomes.

Advocates need to ensure victim/survivor’s concerns and suggestions are treated seriously (validation); that they are given opportunities to fully express these concerns (voice); that they have a say in what they think should happen (control) and that action is taken on their concerns and suggestions (outcomes).

Fairness and justice for victim/survivors starts with ensuring our own practices, our own agency, and the multidisciplinary teams we work with are fair and just.  Point five of the Sexual Violence Justice Institute’s Core Intervention Principles states: “…The overall process must involve times when the team solicits information and insight from those outside the team—including victims/survivors themselves and the people they most often turn to in a community.” (their emphasis).



The Ombudsman’s Better practice guide to complaints handling describes five elements of effective complaint handling:

  • Culture. Agencies must value complaints as a means of strengthening their administration and improving their relations with the public.
  • Principles. An effective complaint handling system must be modelled on the principles of fairness, accessibility, responsiveness, efficiency and integration.
  • People. Complaint handling staff must be skilled and professional.
  • Process. The seven stages of complaint handling—acknowledgment, assessment, planning, investigation, response, review, and consideration of systemic issues—should be clearly outlined.
  • Analysis. Information about complaints should be examined as part of a continuous process of organisational review and improvement.”
  • Type of complaint (recreational, emotional release only, complaint for action) Action is not required for all complaints.  Some are just about making conversation or joking comments.  Others are primarily about expressing distress, frustration or anger rather than wanting a solution.  Many are about something or someone which calls for recognition and an action response.
  • Directed at (internal or external to agency – self or others, procedures or decisions) Agency protocols and high quality interagency collaboration is required for both internal and external feedback.  If a complaint is directed at you, then if possible try to resolve it.  A third party may be required. Regardless of how well you think it went, where possible, the victim/survivor should be given the opportunity to choose an other advocate.  The advocate should recognise the limitations of what they can do.  For example, they may not be able to advocate against certain decisions of the court.
  • Progressing complaints/suggestions (support victim to progress or advocate and others to progress) Complaints may have a lot of energy behind them,  if appropriate and possible, advocates might consider helping victim/survivors participate directly in resolving complaints.  If done well it can be empowering and build relationships.  Otherwise the advocate or the most suitable person should progress the complaint within a reasonable timeframe agreed to by the victim survivor.  Outcomes should be discussed with the victim survivor
  • Conflict resolution (an opportunity to build relationships) A key element of the advocate’s role is the development and maintenance of effective partnerships.  To be able to contribute to team cohesion, negative and sensitive issues need to be handled with skill, tact, compassion and assertiveness. The Conflict Resolution Network (CRN) has many resources to enhance this critical advocacy skill.  Many of the approaches and skills presented here are also useful to use when receiving complaints from other staff.

Wisdom and Challenges from Victim/Survivors

In addition to feedback from children and parents at the George Jones Child Advocacy Centre  {see Appendix 2 p. 51) there are a range of other feedback sources to review agency services.  For example, in Western Australia two victim/survivors of sexual assault have written books about their experiences which not only give great insights into the psychological and social impacts of sexual violence, but also into systems and agency functions.

In Hannah Baker’s compelling, must read book, Dealing with Sexual Abuse: A Young Australian’s Insights (2015),the back cover reads:

“This book provides a young Australian’s devastating account of ‘slipping through the cracks’ of the child protection, education and support systems. … To conclude, Hannah provides her advice for those who are supporting young people who may have been abused.  She also outlines her ideas for system reform so that young people are better protected than she was.”

Hannah has provided a rare and detailed insight into the child protection / criminal justice system along with astute recommendations for change. On pages 253-258 she has provided a series of probing questions which could form the basis for discussion and change.

This sound recording (29mb) of Hanna’s 40 minute presentation at her book not only a rare insight into the good, bad and ugly of the social-welfare-criminal-justice systems, but also a call to professionals to take action on the many issues raised.

This video from Pip Brennan provides a different view of the good and not so good of our support  and criminal-justice systems for victim/survivors of sexual assault.

Not My Story is Pip Brennan’s well-written, blow-by-blow account of her experiences, as well as being a good read offer professionals and others many opportunities to improve service delivery and facilitate systemic changes.


Click here for a range of evaluation tools and click here (Word) for Intake and Outcome-Based data collection and feedback forms from the SART Toolkit

Listening to Our Communities Toolkit  This toolkit from the National Sexual Assault Demonstration Initiative focuses on key tools and skills for conducting community assessments in order to strengthen services for sexual assault survivors.  It is written specifically for multi-service programs, but will be useful for most victim service programs.

Systems advocacy

“I’ve been here for 19 years and 17 years of that would be lobbying for legislative change. (Director, Gold Coast CASV)”  Source

Systems advocacy includes local systems as well as broader policy, legislative and community levels.

Some issues, particularly those which are recurring, may require a systems response.  At the local level, this is often best progressed through existing professional networks such as multidisciplinary teams and local community networks. Click here for the Public Health Advocacy Institute of Western Australia (2010) Internal Advocacy Factsheet

Broader and more senior level issues such as state and federal policy, legislation and societal attitudes may require a more senior response such as the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse | Adults Surviving Sexual Assault | Children’s Commissioner | Australian Human Rights Commission | Women Everywhere Advocating Violence Elimination | Law Reform Commissions and others.

In most cases, higher level issues should first be discussed with supervisory staff who may subsequently progress the issue. The Public Health Advocacy Institute of Western Australia has an Advocacy Toolkit for those involved in facilitating broader, system’s change.


Systems advocacy is a political process. It can involve one or more people working towards changing larger issues such as laws, provision of service, policies and community attitudes.

Systems advocacy can also arise out of being proactive in istening to and acting on the voices of victim/survivors of sexual violence including their family and friends as well as those who don’t report to police or use professional services.


  • Click here for Standard 18 – Complaints management and systems advocacy from “Advocacy Standards for working with Children, Young People and Adults who have Experienced Sexual Violence” (Australian)
  • Click here  (bottom of page) for a summary view of above standard.