Publication - 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
3 Summary Of Literature Review

108 page PDF

1.3 MB

3 Summary Of Literature Review


3.1 Appendix 4 contains the literature review and all associated references. This chapter summarises main points from the literature review.

Background and development of advocacy

3.2 The literature review describes the development of advocacy. While general 'advocacy' has existed for around 30 years within specialist violence against women organisations, it is only towards the late 1990s that a more specific version of 'advocacy services' in relation to domestic abuse began to appear. Key features of this were that it was proactive in following up incidents of domestic abuse reported to the police, and emphasised helping victims gain their rights and entitlements, rather than general support.

3.3 From 2001, an additional focus on risk reduction is evident with the establishment of the Women's Safety Unit ( WSU) in Cardiff, which provided a 'one stop shop' for victims of domestic violence [9] and 'known-perpetrator rape'. Goals of the project included increasing the proportion of cases resulting in arrest, charges and convictions, and reducing the level of repeat victimisation (Robinson, 2003).

3.4 Towards the end of her report, Robinson notes that a new initiative [10] , Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conferences ( MARAC) provides further illustration of the value of the work done by the unit. In particular, the role of a seconded police officer was seen as 'a bridge between community and criminal justice agencies and their respective approaches to handling cases of domestic violence' (Robinson, 2003, p.36). The WSU-based officer had access to confidential information, not usually shared with community agencies, and could track cases through the criminal justice process. The officer also had 'in-depth information gathered by victim-oriented trained professionals that is not normally within the purview of criminal justice agencies' (ibid).

3.5 When shared at the MARAC, this range of information 'was instrumental in creating safety plans for victims' (ibid). Robinson's subsequent evaluation of the Cardiff MARAC (Robinson, 2004) was positive about the impact of the MARAC approach, and noted that 'the information provided … and actions undertaken by the Women's Safety Unit appear particularly significant.'

3.6 Since then, domestic abuse advocacy services across the UK have predominantly developed in tandem with the emergence of MARACs and other variants on what is known as the coordinated community response ( CCR) to domestic abuse.

3.7 The first domestic abuse advocacy project in Scotland, ASSIST, was set up in 2004 to support the pilot domestic abuse court in Glasgow. The evaluation of this court acknowledged the value of the advocacy service, and a subsequent feasibility study recommended that the court, including the advocacy service, should develop across Glasgow (Reid-Howie, 2007; Scottish Executive, 2008).

3.8 Sexual violence advocacy emerged alongside the development of multi-agency approaches to sexual violence. Independent Sexual Violence Advisers ( ISVAs) were introduced in several areas in England and Wales in 2006 following research into Sexual Assault Referral Centres ( SARCs), which identified that victims of sexual assault needed support, advocacy and information in the period immediately after a sexual assault (Lovett et al, 2004). Rape Crisis Scotland has rolled out a National Advocacy Project following positive feedback from survivors who participated in a pilot project in Glasgow which offered advocacy and support to women reporting a sexual assault to the police (Brooks and Burman, 2016).

Evaluation of advocacy services

3.9 The literature review describes the findings from multi-site evaluations. Many of these relate to domestic abuse advocacy and some to sexual violence advocacy. There is little research into advocacy for other forms of gender-based violence, which may in part be because there are fewer services.

3.10 None of the services included in the evaluations provided specific advocacy for children and young people affected by gender-based violence. The lack of specific advocacy services for children and young people is consistently identified as a problem for services and victims (Howarth et al, 2009; Robinson, 2009a; Coy and Kelly, 2011; Stanley and Humphreys, 2014).

3.11 The lack of services for black and minority ethnic victims is also consistently identified as a problem (Howarth et al, 2009; Robinson, 2009a; Coy and Kelly, 2011).

3.12 Specific services for disabled women are also scarce. Hague et al (2011) in the first national study of domestic abuse and disability in the UK, found that service provision for disabled women was proportionately less than for non-disabled women.

Training and accreditation

3.13 Co-ordinated Action Against Domestic Abuse (Caada, now SafeLives) was set up explicitly to encourage the use of independent advocacy to increase victims' safety. This depended on trained advocates. Caada/SafeLives has provided this training since 2005.

3.14 Training focuses on assessing and reducing risk to victims; providing consistent professional support; and liaising with other agencies that contribute to victim safety. The training model was originally based on best practice developed by Standing Together Against Domestic Violence, ADVANCE and the Cardiff Women's Safety Unit (Kail et al, 2007).

3.15 In Scotland, ASSIST and Scottish Women's Aid worked with SafeLives to develop a qualification for independent domestic abuse advocates ( IDAAs) accredited by the Scottish Qualifications Authority. Based on the Caada training but tailored to the Scottish context, the Scottish Government funded the three organisations to develop and provide the training from 2011 to 2016. It is now self-funding.

Defining advocacy: what are the key components?

3.16 From the literature review, the following main components of an advocacy service emerge but may not hold true in all cases.


3.17 A crucial component of an advocacy approach is independence. Advocates in the services reviewed were based in various locations, including local authority hubs, police stations, A&E departments and voluntary organisations. However, regardless of physical location, all the evaluations we reviewed concur that advocates must be independent of 'the system' in order to represent the best interests of victims. Their independence is critical to the success of the advocacy role and the extent to which victims and practitioners can trust them (Howarth et al, 2009; Robinson, 2009a; Robinson, 2009b; Coy and Kelly, 2011).

Assertive/proactive outreach

3.18 Advocacy workers respond to third party referrals, offering the service to victims rather than waiting for the victim to self-refer. This includes offering the service repeatedly if it is declined or the victim does not respond at the first approach (Kelly and Humphreys, 2000; Howarth et al, 2009; Robinson, 2009a; Coy and Kelly, 2011). Some services will also accept self-referrals, but it is the proactive response to third party referrals that is seen as a distinctive element of the advocacy role.

Crisis intervention

3.19 Domestic abuse advocacy is intended to be a short-term crisis intervention, designed to address the immediate risk to victims; reduce the risk of further abuse; help victims get other services; and promote access to justice and rights. The trigger for an advocacy intervention is usually a specific abuse-related incident. The advocacy may last a few days, or a few weeks, but rarely longer than three to six months, although advocacy workers may stay in intermittent contact with victims until the conclusion of any court processes (Howarth et al, 2009; Robinson, 2009a; Coy and Kelly, 2011).

3.20 Advocacy in response to sexual violence can begin as a crisis intervention in the immediate aftermath of an incident, but may also be focused on signposting and support for survivors of historic sexual abuse and may potentially involve a longer engagement with victims, reflecting more protracted involvement with the legal system experienced by sexual assault victims (Robinson, 2009b; Brooks et al, 2015).

Risk assessment

3.21 Formalised risk assessment has predominantly developed in relation to domestic abuse incidents rather than to other forms of gender-based violence. When dealing with an incident of domestic abuse, the police or a healthcare provider often makes an initial assessment of risk of further abuse by the perpetrator before referring a victim to an advocacy service. The advocate's role is to develop the risk assessment further; to find out more about level of risk; and to take action to reduce the risk to the victim and enhance her safety. Risk assessment is dynamic. The advocate continues to assess risk throughout contact with the victim.

3.22 A consistent approach to domestic abuse risk assessment across agencies is seen as helpful. A recent baseline report of MARACs in Scotland highlights complications in assessing risk because different agencies use different risk assessment methods (SafeLives, 2016a).

Safety planning

3.23 Safety planning is dynamic and constantly updated to take account of the changing circumstances of the victim and the perpetrator. It is practical, and tailored to the circumstances of each individual. It is a process done 'with' not 'for' the victim (Campbell, 2004). This applies to domestic abuse within an intimate relationship. It is less likely to be an essential component involving rape by a complete stranger.

Providing information

3.24 Advocates provide information to victims. This includes information about process, what's happening now/next; about rights and entitlements to criminal justice/housing/welfare; and about the dynamics of domestic abuse. By sharing information about how perpetrators tend to operate, advocates can help victims understand more about patterns of abuse, perpetrator behaviour and how abuse affects the victims and children involved. This can help increase victims' understanding of 'coercive control' in intimate partner relationships, and know more about the risks from perpetrators (Coy and Kelly, 2011).

Speaking with and for victims

3.25 Advocates act on behalf of victims at a time when they may be unable to do so themselves. A critical role for advocates is to keep the victim central to the process, including representing their views at multi-agency discussions at which the victim is not present (Howarth et al, 2009; Robinson, 2009a; Robinson, 2009b; Coy and Kelly, 2011).

Multi-agency partnership/coordinated community response

3.26 Advocates are integral to the coordinated community response to domestic abuse. Advocates liaise with colleagues in agencies involved in multi-agency responses to victims of all forms of gender-based violence (Howarth et al, 2009; Robinson, 2009a; Robinson, 2009b; Coy and Kelly, 2011; Brooks et al, 2015).

3.27 They become the point of contact for the victim and the 'one stop shop' for information and updates about what other agencies are doing. They are also the point of contact for the agencies involved with individual women (Howarth et al, 2009; Robinson, 2009a; Robinson, 2009b; Coy and Kelly, 2011).

3.28 Slow responses from other agencies create barriers to effective advocacy work. An advocacy worker cannot do their job if the agencies around them are not responding effectively. The role of the advocacy worker in encouraging an effective multi-agency response is critical (Howarth et al, 2009; Robinson, 2009a; Robinson, 2009b; Coy and Kelly, 2011).

3.29 Independent Sexual Violence Advisers ( ISVAs) operate within a slightly different multi-agency framework, and a narrower range of agencies may be involved. The limited literature on ISVAs suggests that they often have to negotiate with one agency at a time to advocate for women (Robinson, 2009b).

Institutional advocacy

3.30 The role of advocacy workers in a coordinated community response is predominantly operational but they also work strategically. As they negotiate the criminal justice/housing/social work/welfare systems, they form a picture of what is and what is not working. This contributes to plugging the gaps, overcoming barriers and improving system responses and processes (Howarth et al, 2009; Robinson, 2009a; Coy and Kelly, 2011).


3.31 The literature review shows that survivors consistently report that advocacy services have improved their safety, wellbeing and quality of life (Reid-Howie, 2007; Coy and Kelly, 2011; SafeLives, 2016b).


3.32 There is a body of evidence about the processes and the outcomes of advocacy services as a response to domestic abuse and to some extent, sexual violence. However, there is little consideration of advocacy for other forms of gender-based violence.

3.33 There is no precise definition of 'advocacy' within the literature but there are some common components that have been highlighted in this chapter. Some of these relate mainly to domestic abuse advocacy.

3.34 Other key points that emerged from the review are that children and young people need advocacy in their own right, and that there are fewer advocacy services for women from black and ethnic minority communities and for disabled women (Howarth et al, 2009; Robinson, 2009a; Coy and Kelly, 2011).