What is an Advocate in Court?
Jan 30, 2015 | 10:00 am
Abuse is a truly real and traumatic experience, especially for children. Abusers often seek to keep the abused victim isolated and afraid to speak to anyone, even family members and friends. This can present difficult challenges when the time comes for the abused victim to face their abuser in court. A court advocate is available to assist the abused victim before, during, and after the time in court.
The Need for Court Advocates
The first court advocacy program was formed in 1977 in Seattle, Washington by Judge David Soukup. At the time, Soukup and other judges only had information provided to them by child protective service. He found this was not sufficient and decided to set up a group of volunteers, each one dedicated to an individual case, who could learn about, and speak for, the best interest of the abused or neglected child.
The program was a success, bringing in fifty volunteers in Seattle. Judge Soukup’s program in Seattle helped launch similar programs across the country as other jurisdictions began looking into what is an advocate in court.
Anyone wishing to understand what is an advocate in court, with possible interest in becoming one would be interested in the training required. While it varies across the country, training programs typically require 40 or more hours of classroom, workshop, and/or observation time. Those aspiring to being appointed as a court advocate must also pass a background check, and usually must be at least 21 years old.
Due to the nature of the work, and the fact that the abuse victims may present themselves in defensive modes, it is very important that potential court advocates be nonjudgmental. When someone survives a situation of abuse or neglect they may put up defenses that can be misconstrued, and a person with a judgmental demeanor or attitude can make the situation for the victim worse, rather than better.
The primary responsibility of an advocate in court is to determine what is in the best interest of the victim of abuse or neglect. This is done by learning about the victim mostly through interviews and discussions. The court advocate will also help the victim process and deal with the emotional pain left behind after the abuse or neglect ends. Court advocates also provide moral support for the victim when they face their abuser in court.
Additional responsibilities include helping the victim understand the court hearing process, as well as explain the outcome of the hearing. Court advocates will also help the victim develop safety plans and other measures to help prevent them from becoming victims of abuse or neglect again in the future.
To fully understand what is an advocate in court one must understand the emotional pain and difficulties that abuse and neglect can cause the victim. By understanding these pains and difficulties, the need for a court advocate becomes clear. Like many ideas we take for granted today, the need for a court advocate for abused victims was not obvious until Judge Soukup noticed the need in 1977.