Heather Engstrom has been an advocate for victims and witnesses for more than a decade, first in the Navy and now through the District Attorney’s Office at the Androscoggin County Superior Court in Auburn.

It’s not an easy job. Sometimes people don’t want the support. Sometimes they’re afraid, or angry, or frustrated with the court system. Sometimes they just want to ignore the crime — sexual assault and domestic violence among other things — and move on. 

But Engstrom knows how to help people deal with the anxiety of crime and court and testimony. She knows how to relate.

Name: Heather Engstrom

Age: 38

Married/single/relationship: Happily married

Job: Victim witness advocate for Androscoggin County Superior Court in Auburn

What does an advocate do? Victim witness advocates work within the criminal justice system to provide support to crime victims and witnesses in dealing with the inconvenience and anxiety of going to court and understanding the often confusing procedures of the criminal justice process.

What kinds of cases or situations do you handle? We as advocates handle various cases and situations, from felonies to misdemeanors, to include gross sexual assaults, domestic violence, burglaries, etc.

What led you to become an advocate? There are victims – my term is survivors – who think that no one has ever experienced what they have experienced. I cannot share my stories of what I have been through, but I can let them know that they are not alone.

How long have been doing this work? I have been a sexual assault advocate/victim witness coordinator for over 10 years. However, this is my first civilian job working in the court system, which is a very busy job behind the scenes but I can honestly say that I love what I do!

What does an advocate in the military do? The job description is different, as a victim advocate is there to provide support and care to the victim and to help the victim in making informed decisions as they progress through resolution and healing. We do not speak with attorneys.

How is being an advocate in the military different from being one in civilian life? We are first responders. We are not addressed by the attorneys, nor are we as hands-on as the advocates in the civilian court system. We have one job and that is being by the side of the sexual assault victim.

Why is victim advocacy important? It is important to let victims/witnesses know that there is justice. Sometimes they may see things from a negative perspective, but if you can show them that there is a method to the madness (negative vs. positive) it is a win-win for all. They may not like the resolution, but we need everyone to feel safe in the community that they live in.

Is there a typical victim? There is not one typical victim. I don’t like the word victim – I like the word survivor. Everyone is a survivor and there may be those times when something terrible happens, but all we can do is show the families that we are here to support them through this court process.

Have you ever had someone not want an advocate?: I can neither confirm nor deny, but I can say some are scared because of retaliation. I try to let them know that the state wants what is best for them and their families and to ensure they are safe in their community.

Do you ever feel intimidated? I don’t believe so, but I do remember my first call on the job and remember how scary that was for me. There are some people who get upset during the process and frustrated at the length of the process, but all we can do as advocates is keep you informed.

What makes a good advocate? Relating. What I mean by that is that everyone comes from a different background, and victims/witnesses think that we as advocates may have never been in their shoes. We ensure that all victims are served with devotion, loyalty, determination and fairness.

What’s the best part about being an advocate? For me the best part of being an advocate is helping others get through this process step-by-step. I may not be a first responder, however I am here to advocate and relay their desires to the attorney so that everyone is able to move in a positive direction for a positive resolution.

What’s the most challenging part? Trying to make those victims/witnesses in the case know that an advocate is not the jury nor the judge, we are an advocate. We are here to get you through the court process. We need them (victims/witnesses) to be honest about the situations. It is not OK for you to just accept the situation and move forward.


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