Publication - Progress report

National scoping exercise of advocacy services for victims of violence against women and girls

Published: 8 Aug 2017
Justice Directorate
Part of:
Equality and rights, Law and order

Report on the national scoping exercise of advocacy services relating to the criminal justice system for victims of violence against women and girls.

108 page PDF

1.3 MB

108 page PDF

1.3 MB

National scoping exercise of advocacy services for victims of violence against women and girls
Executive Summary

108 page PDF

1.3 MB

Executive Summary


The Scottish Government's Justice Directorate commissioned Blake Stevenson Ltd in July 2016 to undertake a national scoping exercise of advocacy services relating to the criminal justice system for victims of violence against women and girls. The scoping exercise included advocacy services for victims of domestic abuse, prostitution, human trafficking, rape and sexual assault. It also covered advocacy services available for children and for men where these may have an impact on women's services. The research team submitted the final report in March 2017.

Research requirements

The requirements for the scoping exercise were to:

  • establish exactly what advocacy services are available across Scotland;
  • map the models used, including any variation and gaps;
  • detail the funding, accountability and governance arrangements in place;
  • identify the key outcomes sought by service providers and whether services collect monitoring data about these;
  • describe the way in which advocacy services are interacting with other facilities, organisations and systems in relation to delivering for victims of violence against women and girls;
  • examine whether there are isolated arrangements and where there is an integrated approach;
  • examine, within the local context, where barriers have formed and what needs to be done to adjust this to provide a more consistent victim-focused service; and
  • detail the risk assessment tools being used by service providers and where it is considered that service providers are meeting highest standards.

The development of advocacy services responding to violence against women and girls in Scotland

The report outlines the development of advocacy services responding to violence against women and girls in Scotland which dates back to the early 2000s. Key developments since then have been:

  • the establishment of seven domestic abuse courts with linked advocacy services;
  • the establishment of Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conferences ( MARACs) now operating in 23 of 32 local authority areas;
  • the training, funded until 2016 by the Scottish Government, of 175 independent domestic abuse advocates ( IDAAs);
  • Scottish Government funding for 15 full time equivalent ( FTE) support and advocacy workers based in rape crisis centres providing advocacy for victims of sexual violence; and
  • the publication, latest update in 2016, of the Scottish Government's Equally Safe strategy for preventing violence against women and girls.


The research team adopted a mixed-method approach which included the following elements:

  • a literature review, which examined the development of advocacy services in the UK, and set out the main components of an advocacy service;
  • preliminary mapping of advocacy services across Scotland, which involved contacting key local and national services to ask them to identify those they know offer advocacy services; they suggested further contacts whom the team also contacted; the mapping identified a total of 176 possible advocacy services;
  • an online survey, which 67 services completed and ten services responded to saying they did not offer advocacy services, giving a response rate of 40%;
  • qualitative interviews with service managers from 24 of the services which had responded to the survey, covering different models of service provision and different governance arrangements; and
  • qualitative interviews with 11 national stakeholders and two focus groups with Violence Against Women Partnership ( VAWP) coordinators.

At the outset of the work, the research team, together with the Scottish Government's steering group, agreed a definition for 'advocacy' to be used:

'Advocacy is a crisis intervention, focused on risk assessment and safety planning for victims of gender-based violence with the goal of improving safety and reducing risk of further abuse. Advocacy is also seeking to enable victims to access, navigate and have a voice through the criminal justice process.'

Literature review

The literature review sets out the background to and development of advocacy services across the UK over the past 30 years. It demonstrates that there is a body of evidence about the processes and outcomes of advocacy services as they relate to domestic abuse and sexual violence but little consideration of advocacy for other forms of gender-based violence. While there is no precise definition of an 'advocacy service' from the literature, the following components of an effective advocacy response emerge:

  • advocates must be integral to the community response to gender-based violence but independent;
  • proactive outreach engages more victims at an earlier stage, and makes it more likely that they will engage with the criminal justice process;
  • advocates undertake risk assessment and safety planning, gathering information from a range of agencies;
  • advocates provide information to victims about the criminal justice process and about their legal and welfare rights entitlements as well as about the dynamics of abuse;
  • advocates can represent the victim in multi-agency conferences where appropriate;
  • advocacy is a time-limited crisis intervention, particularly in relation to domestic abuse; and
  • children and young people need advocacy in their own right.

While the above are the key operational components of an advocacy service, the literature highlights that advocates can also play a strategic role because, through their work, they identify the gaps, the barriers to be overcome and how systems and processes might be improved.

The literature review shows that survivors consistently report that advocacy services have improved their safety, wellbeing and quality of life.


The findings are drawn from all aspects of the research.

How services define advocacy

There is no agreed and accepted definition of what constitutes an advocacy service. This partly depends on what type of abuse is being addressed: for services providing domestic abuse advocacy, there is a focus on short-term crisis intervention; for some services providing advocacy for sexual violence such as rape or sexual assault, advocacy may be seen as a longer process as the legal and court processes may themselves be drawn out. While the majority of interviewees the research team spoke to were content to use the definition as given for the research, there is clearly variation in precisely what is meant by advocacy. This also presents some challenge for setting standards for advocacy and achieving consistency of service across Scotland. On the other hand, it allows for flexibility to meet needs as they arise.

What services are available

The report identifies advocacy being offered by the following types of services:

  • court-based services;
  • Women's Aid groups;
  • Rape Crisis Centres;
  • services co-located with the police;
  • services co-located or closely linked with health services;
  • individual third sector organisations; and
  • specialist services, targeting particular groups such as victims of human trafficking or survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

In addition, two other services were included which, while not fully meeting the definition, have an important role linked to the provision of advocacy services. Victim Support Scotland provides a generic service to victims, and nationally, it reports that it meets the second part of the research definition: enabling victims to navigate the criminal justice system and to have a voice. The Scottish Women's Rights Centre provides legal advice and assistance to women affected by gender-based violence. It has one solicitor in Glasgow. As a result of recent additional funding from the Scottish Government, it will increase its staff adding an advocacy worker and three further solicitors covering a wider geographical area.

From the 67 survey responses, most services indicate that they are available during office hours from Monday to Friday with far fewer available in the evenings and at weekends.

In terms of staffing, many services have one advocacy worker, while the highest number of advocacy staff is at ASSIST, the Glasgow court-based service, which has 23 full-time equivalent ( FTE) advocacy staff. The survey responses indicated a total of just under 230 FTE advocacy staff across Scotland. Not all have a specialist advocacy qualification: 28 services stated that they do not have staff with a specialist advocacy qualification (and 37 services stated that they do).

Domestic abuse is the most common type of abuse for which advocacy services are available, followed by rape and sexual assault.

The 67 respondents stated that they provide a range of services, with all stating that they engage and communicate with other agencies on behalf of the victim. Most provide safety planning, support through the reporting process and information on related issues. The majority of the respondents provide risk assessment, with nine saying that they do not. While 30 of the respondents said that they provide specialist advocacy services for children and young people, it would be helpful to explore this further to see precisely what is offered as interviewees frequently mentioned this as a gap.

The most frequently mentioned method of access to advocacy services was self-referral followed by referrals from the police and social work. Almost half of the services stated that people accessed their services as a result of 'proactive outreach' although the interviews showed that different approaches are meant by this term.

The most common location for advocacy services is within an independent voluntary organisation. Four services indicated that they are co-located with the police, and three are located within a local authority hub. One service stated it was co-located with the health service.

Thirty of the 67 respondents work with women only, and 33 work with both men and women. One organisation works with men (including non-binary people) only. While just under one third of services work with children under 12, no service works exclusively with children and young people. As already mentioned, there is need for further research into what is being offered by way of advocacy services, as distinct from support services, for children and young people.

Just under half of respondents reported providing specialist support to people with protected characteristics. However, there is a need to explore this further as it is not clear from the research whether this is part of an 'all-inclusive' approach or whether more specialist services are offered. Interviewees indicated that there are gaps and challenges in providing specialist services for people from black and minority ethnic communities, for example issues connected to interpreting and immigration.

Funding accountability and governance

The most frequently mentioned source of funding for advocacy services is the Scottish Government followed by local authority funding and then the BIG Lottery. The majority of respondents are funded only for the next six to twelve months with a few able to see 18 to 24 months ahead. Most service managers raised the lack of resources and consequent strain on capacity as challenges. Over three quarters of survey respondents placed their service in the range of demand outstripping capacity by some degree.

Most services are accountable to an independent voluntary sector organisation or parent body. Six are accountable to a local authority directly, one to an arms-length local authority organisation, and three to other public sector bodies (including two to the NHS). As might be expected, governance is in line with these accountability arrangements, with the majority governed by boards of trustees or management committees. About two-fifths of respondents stated that they were in a partnership agreement of some sort.

How advocacy services interact with and relate to other facilities, organisations and systems

The most common interaction is with the police, mentioned by nearly all respondents. Other common interactions are with the specialist domestic abuse courts, other courts, MARACs, and law centres and specialist legal centres. From interviews, there is evidence that advocacy services also interact with civil procedures, in particular for child contact. Services also work with a range of other services beyond the criminal justice system in order to respond to the needs of service users. These wider services include substance-use services; health and mental health services; housing; welfare benefits; and disparate voluntary sector services.

Some services, which are local-authority or court-based, appear to have developed more formalised channels for communication and information sharing. These allow for close working and for the advocacy service to link formally with criminal justice processes.

Some areas do not have a MARAC, and some interviewees saw this as a deficit. Others expressed general concern about the lack of consistency in services available across Scotland. There was some criticism of the extent to which the criminal justice system understands the voluntary sector, expressed by those from within the voluntary sector who may not have the close formalised communication channels described above.

A few interviewees expressed the need for more interaction with health services as there is a growing sense of the role that this type of advocacy can play in health settings.

The services which are co-located with the police or in a local authority hub, reported significant benefits from this co-location in their relationships with the police and the wider criminal justice system. There appears to be no overarching process which sets up a formal protocol to establish referral and information sharing mechanisms between the police, the procurator fiscal and advocacy services; these are negotiated and agreed at local level.

Outcomes sought and monitoring data

Two-thirds of respondents reported having set outcomes for their service and one-third have not. Just over two-fifths have not undertaken any evaluation of their service. Those who do evaluate their service are using a range of evaluation tools. These findings suggest that advocacy services could be clearer about what they are trying to achieve and how they measure this.

Risk assessment tools

Most services report using a risk assessment tool. The most commonly used is the SafeLives DASH-RIC (Risk Indicator Checklist) used by nearly four-fifths of the respondents. A few use Police Scotland Domestic Abuse Questions.

Service models identified

The report identifies a range of service models based on forms of abuse addressed; location and governance; and advocacy approach. This shows that there are more domestic abuse-related service models than any others.

There was some discussion of the 'silo-ing' of different models and forms of abuse. This tended to be in the context of funding and concerns about equity and access to services. There is scope to explore how services addressing different types of abuse might further collaborate.

In considering future development, national stakeholders focused on:

  • secure funding based on a clear rationale;
  • minimum standards, clear principles and outcomes; and,
  • consistency across Scotland to allow equal access to services with allowance for variation according to, for example, rural/urban populations.


The main gaps in service provision identified through the survey and the qualitative interviews relate to geographical gaps; and gaps in types of service available, in services for people with specific vulnerabilities, and in service provision linked to the justice process. For geographical gaps, the key issue is what is available in rural areas compared to urban areas, and the challenges associated with this. For types of service, there are fewer services available for those who have experienced human trafficking and prostitution (although this research did not explore the demand for such services). For specific vulnerabilities, the research identified the need for more understanding of advocacy services available for children and young people, identified as a gap in current provision. Another gap related to appropriate services for black and minority ethnic women, particularly asylum seekers and refugees. For the justice process, one service identified the lack of services for those who do not proceed to court where there is insufficient evidence to proceed, and the difficulties of managing risk and safety post-conviction.


Interviewees discussed barriers relating to the justice system itself, including the length of time to trial, the trial process and the variation in sentencing. A few interviewees mentioned practical barriers associated with court buildings and court processes, such as having to use the same entrance as the perpetrator. Funding is generally precarious, and this makes it difficult for services to deliver the service as they would wish to. More broadly, interviewees mentioned a general lack of awareness of gender-based violence and its impact, and the need for continued awareness and skills training for frontline staff, procurators fiscal and sheriffs.


The report concludes by making the following recommendations:

A. Advocacy services should be clear about what they do, the outcomes they seek, and how they measure their effectiveness and impact. Learning from individual service evaluations can then contribute to wider institutional and strategic change.

B. To consider the intersection between the civil and criminal law in responding to violence against women and girls consistently and safely.

C. To examine how to improve formal communication and information-sharing channels between advocacy services and the criminal justice system.

D. To analyse funding models, direction and support to improve advocacy services' ability to plan and to provide service across all forms of gender-based violence.

E. To consider how to provide advocacy across Scotland so that it can be accessed by all victims of gender based violence regardless of their location, particularly taking account of variation in urban/rural accessibility.

F. To consider the demand for services, and the value and impact of independent advocate training.