Best Practice FAQs

Best Practice FAQs

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In a few states, victims have a right to have advocates present during law enforcement interviews, so they can provide comfort and needed support during what can be a grueling process. There is no inherent reason that an advocate’s presence will harm an investigation. In fact, there is research documenting the positive impact advocacy services can have on the victim’s health and well-being, as well as the quality of response by medical professionals as well as law enforcement. If anything, an advocate’s presence and assistance can keep victims informed, cooperative, and calm (e.g., by explaining the need for certain questions or aspects of the process). What’s key, though, is that advocates and investigators work together to establish roles and boundaries so that both can do their jobs without conflict. Advocates must understand and accept that investigators must sometimes ask tough questions, and investigators must appreciate the advocate’s role in shielding the victim from unnecessary trauma. When advocates and law enforcement professionals come to the table regularly, common ground can almost always be found where the interplay between advocates and investigators will move the process forward in a way that is positive for both the victim and the case. Some investigators seek to exclude advocates because they fear the advocate will interfere with the investigative process (for instance, by objecting to some questions, or interrupting). However, this is readily solvable by cooperation and interaction between investigators and advocates so that roles and boundaries can be established and followed, and both parties (law enforcement and advocate) can cooperate and work together in order to maintain victim comfort and cooperation while also enhancing the investigative process. Occasionally, advocates are advised not to be present for substantive victim interviews with investigators because they could become witnesses to the case, thereby disturbing the survivor/advocate relationship. However, simply because the advocate hears statements from a victim that a defense attorney may seek to use, does not mean that the advocate must testify. As long as another, actively listening individual is present (the investigator always qualifies) then there is no danger of the advocate being forced to testify with regard to survivor/victim statements. Further, advocates often aren’t the active listeners during a substantive interview. Their primary focus, after all, is not the investigation, but the well-being and comfort of the survivor/victim. For more information on this topic, please read Advocates and Law Enforcement: Oil and Water? These issues are also addressed in detail in the OnLine Training Institute (OLTI) module entitled, Effective Victim Advocacy Within the Criminal Justice System.

While the research in this area is somewhat limited, the consistent conclusion is that advocacy services facilitate victim recovery and increase access to other services in the community response system; this includes the criminal justice system as well as other social services.

  • For example, in one statewide study of rape crisis center services, Wasco et al. (2004) “found that survivors consistently rated advocates as supportive and informative” (Campbell, 2006, p. 32).
  • In another study, Wasco, Campbell, Barnes, and Ahrens (1999) found that victims who worked with an advocate experienced less distress after contacting the legal and medical systems.

“Taken together, the results of these studies suggest that rape victim advocates are beneficial” (Campbell, 2006, p. 32).

More specific evidence also addresses the question of exactly HOW advocates facilitate victim recovery by increasing their access to other services in the community response system. To illustrate, one study was conducted with victims of sexual assault who presented to the Emergency Department of local hospitals (Campbell & Bybee, 1997). Results of that study indicated that victims who had the assistance of an advocate received medical services at higher rates than are typically documented in the research literature:

  • 82% received a medical forensic exam
  • 70% received information on pregnancy
  • 38% were provided emergency contraception
  • 67% received information on STDs, and
  • 79% received information on STD preventive antibiotic treatment (Campbell, 2006, p. 32).

The objectives of this study were then expanded by directly comparing rates of service delivery for victims who worked with an advocate as compared with those who did not (Campbell, 2006). With respect to law enforcement, results indicated that when an advocate was involved:

  • Victims were more likely to have a police report taken (59% vs. 41%); and
  • The case was more likely to be investigated further (24% vs. 8%).

Regarding medical services, a similar pattern of increased service delivery was also seen when advocates were involved:

  • Victims were more likely to receive information on STDs (72% vs. 36%) and HIV (47% vs. 24%), as well as prophylactic treatment for STDs (86% vs. 56%).
  • Victims were more likely to be tested for pregnancy (42% vs. 22%) and receive emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy (33% vs. 14%).
  • Medical professionals were less likely to refuse to conduct the examination because the assault occurred “too long ago” (24% vs. 36%). [This is significant because none were “too long ago” based on accepted standards; all of the sexual assaults in the study were reported within 96 hours.]
  • Victims were less likely to be treated “impersonally or coldly” (36% vs. 69%).

As a result of their contact with police and physicians, most of the sexual assault victims in this study experienced considerable distress (Campbell, 2006). However, some responses were seen less often among those victims who worked with an advocate (e.g., feeling bad about themselves, guilty, depressed, or reluctant to seek further help). In other words, victims who worked with an advocate were less likely than others to blame themselves for the sexual assault and less reluctant to seek further help from community response systems. As a result, they received more services from community professionals and had better recovery outcomes.

This response is excerpted from the OnLine Training Institute (OLTI) module entitled, Effective Victim Advocacy in the Criminal Justice System: A Training Course for Victim Advocates. It includes a lengthy discussion on “strategies or overcoming reluctance and addressing conflict (beginning on page 105).

Campbell, R. (2006). Rape survivors’ experiences with the legal and medical systems: Do rape victim advocates make a difference? Violence Against Women, 12, 30-45.

Campbell (2006). Rape survivors’ experiences with the legal and medical systems: Do rape victim advocates make a difference? Violence Against Women, 12, 30-45.

Campbell, R. & Bybee, D. (1997). Emergency medical services for rape victims: Detecting the cracks in service delivery. Women’s Health, 3, 75-101.

Wasco, S.M., Campbell, R., Barnes, H., & Ahrens, C.E. (1999, June). Rape crisis centers: Shaping survivors’ experiences with community systems following sexual assault. Paper presented at the Biennial Conference of the Society for Community Research and Action, New Haven, CT.

Wasco, S.M., Campbell, R., Howard, A., Mason, G., Staggs, S., Schewe, P., et al. (2004). A statewide evaluation of services provided to rape survivors. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 19, 252-63.