Advocates Riding the "Circuit": The Ohio Victim Witness Association
The Ohio Victim Witness Association (OVWA) is a nonprofit organization that began in the late 1970s to give victim advocates a venue for discussing non-confidential case information, resources, trainings, ideas, and other helpful information. Two years ago, it created a traveling victim advocate program to deliver services statewide. OVWA used a VOCA grant to hire a program leader and partnered with police and other law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and victim service providers, and several other state and local agencies to expand its services.
Through its Advocates Riding the "Circuit" program OVWA provides victims with services where and when they need them. The program may assist with high-profile cases, cases that have numerous victims and witnesses, or cases that need more resources than a local office has. For example, cases involving accusations against a high-profile individual or a member of the criminal justice community may require the appointment of special prosecutors or police. OVWA can provide a neutral advocate in these situations. If a jurisdiction has a case in which its personnel have no experience, such as a child's death, OVWA can send an advocate who has the necessary experience.
Preserving Local Control
Every police agency, prosecutor's office, and court system in the state operates a little differently. OVWA believes that each jurisdiction is the best judge of what it needs so it assists the personnel who are already in a local office; it does not take charge. OVWA's advocates may be most helpful by responding to a crisis, conducting sexual assault interviews, notifying victims and witnesses of deaths and court dates, or explaining how the court system works.
In addition to direct services, OVWA will provide specialized training for police departments and other agencies, when requested, by sending an advocate who has the appropriate expertise, which may include areas such as victim sensitivity, child abuse, domestic violence, or techniques for interviewing juveniles. OVWA also will help jurisdictions develop their own training curriculum.
OVWA uses 31 advocates from offices throughout the stateall of whom have training and experience as direct service providersfor its Advocates Riding the "Circuit" program. Volunteers are taught how to provide death notifications and given general information about statewide victim compensation. They also are trained in OVWA protocol.
Since receiving VOCA funding, OVWA has increased the number of crime victims it serves throughout Ohio and offered them more comprehensive services. Thanks to its partnerships with police agencies, victims can receive services from OVWA before the prosecutor's office files charges. Services are available even in areas where the prosecutor's office does not have a victim advocate.
A key component of the Advocates Riding the "Circuit" program has been its partnerships with state agencies. States that are thinking about implementing a similar program should form as many partnerships as possible with both state and local agencies.