Victim advocates, also known as victim coordinators or victim specialists, are professionals who are specially trained to support the victims of crime or abuse and their families.

More victim advocates are being hired within both the criminal justice system and specialist organizations as the value of professional victim support is increasingly recognized. The purpose of a victim advocate is to provide both emotional support and practical assistance to help navigate victims of crime through criminal justice proceedings, including accompanying victims to court hearings. Responsibilities vary from case to case.

Job Description and Common Tasks

The core responsibility of a victim advocate is to help relieve victims of crime of trauma and stress after a difficult experience. Victim advocates also work as liaisons with members of law enforcement and investigators as the victim’s cases are worked through the criminal justice system, which can often be confusing and hard to understand for crime victims.

The day-to-day tasks of a Victim Advocate could include:

Emotional Support

Offering a listening ear, providing psychological counseling, and advice on recovering from major trauma. This can be on a one-on-one basis or through leading a victim support group

Providing Information

Informing victims of their rights and what to expect if their case goes through the criminal justice system. Victim advocates are also experts in victimization, and can help victims by providing information about the psychological impact of a traumatic event

Practical Assistance

Helping victims fill out and submit paperwork such as victim statements or applications for victim compensation. If the victim is in immediate danger or in an abusive situation, a Victim’s Advocate will also develop safety plans for the victim, or help with financial assistance or providing accommodation for court dates

Accompanying Victims

Providing support during stressful and possibly traumatic experiences such as court hearings and police interviews.

How to Become a Victim Advocate

A victim advocate is a skilled and difficult role which requires both deep knowledge of the criminal justice system and the psychology of victims to help provide the mix of emotional and practical support needed.

Many victim advocate roles will require a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a relevant subject such as social work, criminal justice or psychology. When starting a career as a victim advocate, it is also very useful to have previous experience supporting victims of crime or others who have experienced life traumas. This could be from volunteer work with victim support charities, or previous work experience in either law enforcement or social care.

It is also an advantage in the role if you speak another language, especially Spanish, as you are able to provide the best support within a diverse community.

You can also take part in training from The National Organization for Victim Assistance, where you can acquire a professional credential through an intensive program. There are four levels of credential, each requiring 40 hours of training. However, victim advocates are not required to hold any official certifications to practice.

When starting a career as a victim advocate, institutions will provide on-the-job training and coursework on skills such as listening to and supporting a trauma victim and becoming familiar with the many resources available to crime victims.

Victim advocates must also face extensive background investigations, criminal checks and drug tests when applying for a role. This to guarantee the safety of victims, so it is important to know that if you are seeking the victim advocate career path, you must have a clean criminal record.

The most important requirement for a victim advocate involves emotional strength, and an ability to handle difficult situations with empathy and understanding.

Pros and Cons of Becoming a Victim Advocate

Being a victim advocate is a rewarding career, but it is also an intense role which requires special skills and patience.

Pros of Being a Victim Advocate

  • The satisfaction of knowing you are helping some of the most vulnerable in society. It is an ideal role for those who want to make a difference to those who need help the most.
  • Every day is different, as your responsibilities will change from case-to-case, and each victim will have gone through a different and complicated experience which requires varied levels of support.

The Cons of Being A Victim Advocate

  • The role can be stressful, as you are handling the fallout from serious incidents. It can be hard not to get emotionally involved yourself, and you may experience shared trauma with the victims you have helped.
  • Being a victim advocate can challenge your patience when you are trying to help a victim of crime or abuse. The criminal justice system can move slowly, and it can be frustrating to not see immediate results or justice for the victims you are helping.
  • You will be navigating difficult situations and moments as you will often be working with people who are going through the hardest period of their life, or have gone through a profoundly impactful experience. This can take a toll on your personal mental health.
  • Who Employs Victim Advocates?

    Victim advocate roles are on the rise as the importance of the role is recognized and Advocates are being introduced to smaller and more rural communities. Many organizations hire victim advocates within law enforcement and social services.

    Police Departments

    Victim advocates are often hired by local police departments and often work closely with law enforcement officials on every step of the cases’ journey from the initial investigation to court judgements. They will also often be required to give training to police officers and other law enforcement officials on how to provide immediate support and advice to victims of crime.

    Other Agencies

    Beyond law enforcement, other agencies who are interested in hiring victim advocates include supportive non-profit organizations who provide social services to those in need. These can include community centers, child advocacy groups and domestic violence shelters.

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