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Staff Spotlight: Schaene Shatto

What is a Family Violence Victim Advocate?

  • The Family Violence Victim Advocate plays an integral role in the processing of family violence cases in criminal court.  It is the role of the advocate to act as the liaison between the victim and the court. Some responsibilities of a Family Violence Victim Advocate consist of but are not limited to, gathering information about the incident, explaining the court process to the client, relaying the victim’s wishes to the court, making appropriate referrals for services, assisting with restraining orders, staying in contact with and informing the victim of any upcoming court dates and/or the status of the case. In addition, the State’s Attorney or Family Division may ask the assistance of the victim advocate in reaching the victim when preparing a case or continuance. 

What experiences and interests led you to becoming a Family Violence Victim Advocate?

  • Throughout my undergraduate degree, I went through a number of degrees and universities. From life experience, one day it just clicked, and all the pieces began to align. I began my degree in Criminal Justice at The University of New Haven with a concentration in Victim Service Administration. For the first time, I felt I was not settling, and I found exactly where my passion was. My entire degree surrounded the criminal justice system and victims, I studied abroad in Italy completing research on violence against women and attended as many trainings as I could. It was then that I found my purpose and I could not imagine doing anything else.

Why do you think it’s important to have court advocacy for our clients?

  • For some clients, having an advocate in the court system is one of the most critical parts of the process. The court can be an intimidating place for some so an advocate provides a sense of security as they are the client’s point of contact. As an advocate, it is our duty to ensure that victim’s voices are heard and that their rights are preserved. An advocate is a mediator between the victim and the judicial system and vice versa. An advocate is someone who will listen and fight for a victim through an unbiased and trauma informed lens which allows clients to know that they have an ally throughout the complexities of the system.

What is the best advice you have for domestic violence victims that are looking for court and/or legal advocacy?

  • As I would tell any individual who is going through a domestic violence situation whether they are seeking court/legal advocacy or just advocacy in general, you are stronger than you think you are and your voice deserves to be heard. It’s not going to be easy and it may feel close to impossible at times but you have survived 100% of your worst days. If you are questioning whether you want to speak up, call an advocate, ask as many questions as you want, get the information you need, and hold on to it. Even when it does not feel like it, you have rights and you deserve to live a life free from abuse. Remember, always give yourself the credit you deserve… In regard to court, at times it may feel like nothing is being done but trust the process and trust your advocate… the legal system is bigger than an advocate and we too, have limitations in what our job allows us to do but if there is just one person in your corner throughout the process, it’s them. Keep your head up, better days are ahead.

What is the best advice you have for someone who may want to get in this field?

  • Listen – sometimes the best thing you can do for someone is to allow them tell their story and support them through the process. Don’t take anything personal – you may be the only outlet that person has so allow them to feel safe enough to release everything they’ve been holding in. Practice self-care – if you do not take care of yourself then you are no good to anyone else. Burn out, compassion fatigue, and vicarious trauma are real… have an outlet and do your best to keep work at work. Keep your word – no matter the inconvenience it may cause, if you tell someone you’re going to do something, do it… they are relying on you to be different than everyone else in their lives. Lastly, the quicker you free yourself from the idea that you can save someone and that you are a resource and just a part of someone’s story, the better advocate you will be.