The World Health Organisation estimates that between 10% and 50% of women worldwide report having been assaulted physically or sexually by an intimate partner at some time in their lives, and when threats, financial and emotional abuse are included the prevalence rates are even higher. Abused women can suffer injury and long-lasting physical and emotional health problems. One form of intervention to assist these women is advocacy. Advocacy interventions aim to help abused women directly by providing them with information and support to facilitate access to community resources. However, before recommending them to health policy makers we need to know whether they improve the health and well-being of abused women. In other words, are advocacy interventions effective?
After searching the world literature for randomised controlled trials evaluating advocacy programmes for abused women, we found ten trials, involving 1,527 women. The studies comparing advocacy with "usual care" were conducted in a variety of settings both within and outside of healthcare. Participants were recruited from diverse ethnic populations and across a wide age range (15-61 years), but many had a relatively deprived socioeconomic status. Most were experiencing current, often severe, abuse. All of the interventions sought to empower the women by helping them to achieve their goals. They differed in: duration (from 30 minutes to 80 hours), the outcomes reported, and the length of time the women were followed up.
The evidence is consistent with intensive advocacy decreasing physical abuse more than one to two years after the intervention for women already in refuges, but there is inconsistent evidence for a positive impact on emotional abuse. Similarly, there is equivocal evidence for the positive effects of intensive advocacy on depression, quality of life and psychological distress. There is evidence that brief advocacy increases the use of safety behaviours by abused women.
Taken as a whole, we conclude that at present there is equivocal evidence to determine whether intensive advocacy for women recruited in domestic violence shelters or refuges has a beneficial effect on their physical and psychosocial well-being. Further, we do not know if less intensive interventions in healthcare settings are effective for women who still live with abusive partners. Too few studies evaluated interventions of comparable intensity and duration, measured the same outcomes, or had comparable follow-up periods.