The Law Enforcement Advocate (LEA) program, which has been successful at various police departments throughout Rhode Island,
has expanded to serve the entire state. After gaps in the system were identified in 2016, domestic violence and sexual assault service agencies throughout Rhode Island aplied for VOCA, VAWA, and other grants in order to be able to fully fund this program, which is coordinated by Day One and the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence (RICADV) in partnership with law enforcement. The very first Law Enforcement Advocates in Rhode Island started in 1996 and the program has continued to grow.
“The Providence Police Department and our Law Enforcement Advocates have worked together to build a strong partnership over the years,” said Providence Police Chief Colonel Hugh T. Clements, Jr. “The relationship between our officers and LEA’s has proven invaluable when working with the innocent victims of domestic and sexual crimes and I am pleased to know that every department in the state will now benefit from this same partnership.”
The Law Enforcement Advocates are physically based within the police departments and fill a gap for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. When a police department identifies a case of domestic violence or sexual assault, the LEA is notified and reaches out to the victim to offer support and guidance. The LEA does not take the place of an attorney, but the advocate can help provide vital guidance and support to a victim during a time of extreme stress and confusion.
“Advocates throughout the state saw a serious need for advocacy in every Rhode Island community,” said Peg Langhammer, Executive Director of Day One. “Now, thanks to the expansion of this program, victims across Rhode Island will be supported every step of the way. In the last three years alone, Rhode Island LEAs have been able to support over 10,000 victims.”
Through the LEA, victims have access to services that are specific to their needs – such as emotional support, referrals for services, advocacy, and case assistance. Without safety planning, crisis intervention, and support services, victims of domestic and sexual violence will often return to their abuser. When victims feel supported and empowered to continue through the criminal justice process, more prosecutions proceed, and more offenders are held accountable for their actions, while victims and their families receive better outcomes.
“We focus on empowering victims,” said Deborah DeBare, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “Facing an abuser in court can be re-traumatizing for victims of violence; they need to know that they are believed and supported in their decisions throughout the process. LEAs play that crucial role for victims and keep us all safer.”
The overall goals of the Law Enforcement Advocate program include working to reduce trauma to victims, helping victims access and understand the criminal justice system, ensure that victims receive appropriate support services, and acting as a resource for both victims and police officers in cases of domestic violence and sexual assault.
“I would not be here today if it weren’t for the consistent support of my advocates,” said Linda, a survivor of domestic violence. “My advocate helped me arrange a safety plan, gave me a safe phone, helped me file a restraining order, and supported me through that difficult and stressful process. I wouldn’t have a life without the advocates who helped me. They saved my life.”