The Role of an Advocate

Posted on January 9, 2013. Filed under: Advocacy | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

by: Georgette Allen

What exactly does an advocate do? This is a question that I have been asked on numerous occasions. My short answer is usually, “We help victims navigate through the criminal justice system.” Of course my answer is specific to my job as a systems-based advocate. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines an advocate as, “One that supports or promotes the interest of another.” But neither of these answers provides an in-depth explanation of the duties performed by an advocate on a day-to-day basis. 

To give a better understanding of an advocate’s role, let’s start with the difference between a systems-based advocate and a community based advocate. A community-based advocate is one that is employed by an independent, usually non-profit, organization. Examples of non-profit agencies that employ advocates in our local community are Sexual Assault Services of Northwest New Mexico and the FamilyCrisis Center.

In contrast, systems-based advocates are employed by juvenile or criminal justice agencies including: law enforcement, district attorneys, probation and parole, corrections, military, and attorney generals. In our community, the Farmington Police Department, Bloomfield Police Department, FBI, and the District Attorney’s Office employ systems-based advocates. The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office is currently in the process of implementing a volunteer systems-based advocate program.

The overall goal of both types of advocates is to provide support to the victim so that he or she can get through their state of crisis and begin the healing process. However, the parameters in which they perform their duties differ greatly. Here are a few of the differences between the two:

  • Community-based advocates are able to work with victims whether they report the crime to law enforcement or not. Systems-based advocates generally work with victims who have an open criminal case. 
  • Community-based advocates typically provide confidential services, meaning communication between the advocate and the victim are considered “privileged.” Levels of privilege may vary from state to state. Communication between a victim and a systems-based advocate are not considered “privileged” under law and therefore, are not afforded confidentiality rights.
  • Many systems-based advocates work with victims of all crimes. Community-based advocates are specially trained in working with victims of a particular group: domestic violence, sexual assault, elder abuse, etc.

Below is a detailed description of services provided by systems-based advocates and community-based advocates from two agencies in San JuanCounty:

The Farmington Police Department (FPD) employs two full-time victim advocates who provide the following services for victims of violent crimes, with a majority being domestic violence and sexual assault:

  • Act as liaisons between victims of violent crimes and the criminal justice system (Communication)
  • Inform victims of their rights and advocate for those rights
  • Explain the criminal justice process
  • Keeping victims up-to-date on case progress
  • Inform victims of court dates
  • Assist with victim statements at sentencing
  • Crisis intervention
  • Assisting victims with filing orders of protection
  • Safety Planning
  • Assisting with the Crime Victim Reparation Commission (CVRC) application process
  • Provide support to victims during court proceedings
  • Transport victims to court proceedings, shelters, or other related appointments
  • Assist victims with accessing additional resources
  • Answering questions about the criminal justice process for victims who are trying to decide whether or not to report

Sexual Assault Services of Northwest New Mexico (SAS) employs a full-time victim advocate and a crisis services coordinator who recruits and trains volunteer advocates. Advocates are called-out upon request of the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) to provide the following services for victims of sexual assault:

  • Support during forensic exams conducted by a SANE
  • Assistance in filing CVRC applications
  • Referrals to counseling and/or other resources
  • Support during court proceedings

In addition to providing direct services to victims, advocates from both agencies are actively involved in the community to help facilitate change and create an environment conducive to supporting victims and holding offenders accountable. As members of the San Juan County Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Task Force, FPD and SAS advocates:

  • Conduct community awareness campaigns and events
  • Provide education and training opportunities to local law enforcement, professionals, students, and the greater public
  • Engage with local legislators to bring attention to the issues

Advocates play an important role in the community for those affected by these devastating crimes. They are the voice of the voiceless, the ones fighting for the victims’ rights, and the ones who will be there to lend a listening ear.

Are you an advocate from another part of the country or around the world? I invite you to share the work you are doing in your community. Email us at and I will post your story on our blog.

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