Monday, May 10, 2010

Challenges of a Justice System Advocate

from Marya Simmons, Advocate

I would first like to say “Thank you” to all of our volunteers. The work that you do is priceless. From the first time that you have contact with survivors, you are forming a lasting impression on them which begins the supportive relationship that they need!

In my daily role as an Advocate, I face many challenges. Scheduled hearings or trials that do not start on time and ensuring that I make at least one appearance at the agency per week to let everyone know that I am still working there (!) are just two examples.

A few tasks that are usually on my weekly schedule are trials that are scheduled at 9:00am; however, trials could be postponed hours later, a day later, or months later. That is a challenge sometimes because it intensifies the already existing anxiety the survivor/secondary survivors have built up believing that they could come to trial and then go come home. In most cases, I am supporting survivors for hours, days, or even months after the first initial trial date due to continuances or other issues with case.

Forming good relationships with Prosecutor’s aids in receiving updated information on the status of the trialsis important; thus making it easier to keep the survivor informed of what is happening with their case. I also meet with my clients when they are subpoenaed to testify at the Grand Jury, when they complete their statement with a Detective, when they are requested to meet with their assigned Prosecutor, and completing Intakes with new referrals.

My biggest challenge is trying to break the barrier with a new client that has been re-traumatized by a bad experience at a police department.

Although the JSA team provides trainings for law enforcement regarding sexual assault and how to work with victims of sexual assault, there are still cases where the victim feels they were not believed or mistreated. Forming a trusting relationship with my clients at that point is essential for me to work with them.

I believe that I am only as good as my word, so I need to do what I say I am going to do, whether it is returning a phone call or keeping my clients updated with their case status. Follow-up and documentation is one of the most important tasks of my job.

Another challenge is working with survivors and their cases don’t move forward to prosecution or working with survivors and the defendant is found not guilty or pleads to lesser charges – which in turn reduces sentencing time in prison.

The most rewarding part of my job is working with survivors from the beginning to a successful end of their case. Hearing and seeing their gratitude is an awesome feeling. Knowing that my client is satisfied makes what I do even more fulfilling. But being able to help and be a voice for those that would in some cases be ignored is a mission that I am committed to fulfill.

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