5 Conclusions And Recommendations
5.1 The research has demonstrated variation in the types of advocacy service linked to the criminal justice system for victims of violence against women and girls available in Scotland. Domestic abuse advocacy is the most widely available. This reflects the prevalence of domestic abuse and the focus on reported 'incidents'. While recent developments (such as the RCS National Advocacy Project) have extended the type of advocacy available, provision by type and by location are inconsistent across Scotland. Advocacy is less available in rural and remote areas; some forms of violence against women and girls have few associated advocacy services. While it has not been part of this research to assess demand for services, interviewees generally thought there was a need for greater consistency in access to advocacy services across Scotland.
5.2 The research developed a definition that was workable but, because it had two distinct parts, was open to different interpretation. While some respondents thought it would be helpful to have a strict definition, others recognised that having more flexibility allows services to meet needs as they find them.
5.3 The literature review and interviews illustrated essential components of a, predominantly domestic abuse, advocacy service: independence of the justice system; assertive/proactive outreach; crisis intervention; and risk assessment. Some of these, such as crisis intervention and risk assessment, depending on the circumstances, may not apply so readily to other forms of violence against women and girls.
5.4 There are recognisable models of delivery: what they offer and how they do it. These have developed ad hoc and not according to a particular pattern but according to all sorts of variables including funding; needs assessments; opportunity; external demand; rural/urban locations; and sometimes as a service development. As a consequence, there is no one model, and there is no evidence to say that there should be one model.
5.5 However, there was a sense that there were certain prerequisites for any model responding to violence against women and girls. These include a gender-based analysis consistent with national strategy; empowerment of victims; agreed standards; and consistency of access to services across Scotland.
5.6 The research indicated that spread of services is patchy and that, in general, more provision would be helpful. For some services, criminal justice advocacy for victims of violence against women and girls is their main business: they were set up specifically as advocacy services. For others, advocacy is one element of a broader service. The broader service may be wholly or partly responding to violence against women and girls.
5.7 Many services are struggling with lack of secure funding, and demand outstripping capacity. There are problems in providing a broader institutional or strategic response based on evidenced practice, partly due to the lack of evaluation in many services. The scattergun approach is inconsistent with a coordinated community response; overall consistency and continuity in the funding or development of services appears to be limited.
5.8 The research highlights a perceived lack of advocacy services for children and young people in their own right, although it recognises that further work is needed in this area to fully understand what is being offered and by whom. While there is a wider range of support services for children, for example through social work services, it is unknown how many of these services can offer advocacy support, and any support would not be independent advocacy.
5.9 Other perceived gaps were associated with lack of services and barriers to services experienced by black and minority ethnic women and girls; disabled women and girls and LGBTI people.
5.10 In general, while there are clearly informal links between advocacy services and the criminal justice system, there are relatively few services where there is a direct and formally established communication channel between the advocacy service and the criminal justice system. This tends to happen where the service is embedded within the local authority and formal information-sharing protocols exist. Such services speak highly of the benefits which such close and formal communication brings.
5.11 Advocacy does not sit in a vacuum: there are other support services which are crucial for women and girls who experience abuse. In addition, advocacy cannot compensate for some of the weaknesses and challenges within the criminal justice system itself. This research has highlighted some systemic barriers, including the perceived need for more training for sheriffs. The lack of close links between criminal and civil justice were seen as a problem given the risk to women and girls over civil matters such as child contact.
5.12 There was some discussion about the importance or otherwise of having discrete services for victims of domestic abuse, sexual violence and other forms of violence against women and girls. This tended to be raised in the context of gaps and funding issues rather than analysis of the needs of and interventions required by survivors of violence against women and girls. This research was focused on scoping the services that exist rather than assessing the demand for such services.
5.13 The brief for the work asked the research team to consider where further analysis and research may be required to promote consistency in advocacy services for victims of violence against women and girls, across Scotland.
5.14 The key recommendations in terms of further analysis and research are as follows:
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.