A victim advocate is a person who provides support and assistance to victims of crime. Advocates may be employed by a government agency or a non-profit organization to provide services such as information, emotional support, and advocacy.
Victim advocates typically work with victims of violent crimes, but they may also assist victims of property crime, financial crime, or other criminal activities. They also work with survivors of traumatic events, such as sexual assault, natural disasters, or mass shootings.
Victim advocates typically have a background in social services or counseling. They may be certified by a professional organization such as the National Organization for Victim Assistance.
What Does a Victim Advocate Do?
Victim advocates typically provide three types of services: Information, emotional support, and advocacy.
Victim advocates can teach victims about their rights, the criminal law, and available resources. They can also help victims understand what to expect during the criminal justice process, help them file police reports, and access other resources.
Emotional support is of utmost importance to victims of crime and disasters. To that end, advocates often have counseling skills and certificates to help alleviate the victims’ anxiety and stress, and provide other forms of support. One of an advocate’s tasks is to help victims connect and share their experiences within support groups.
As the name suggests, a victim advocate's job description includes helping victims file complaints, get protection from their abusers, and obtain other forms of relief and reparations. In some cases, they may even assist the passage of state legislation to support victims' rights.
Key Skills for Victim Advocates
Victim advocates need to be able to provide emotional support to crime victims. They should be able to listen attentively and understand what the victim is going through.
Even though victim advocates are usually not licensed therapists, they may still use counseling techniques to provide mental health support to crime victims. If not, they should be able to recommend licensed counselors or therapists to the victims, especially those specializing in dealing with trauma.
A victim advocate’s training must focus on learning about the criminal justice system of the area they work in, on all levels. In addition, they should learn to navigate the bureaucracy of government agencies and non-profit organizations.
Victim advocates need to be organized to keep track of all the victims they are assisting and their various predicaments. They should have a system for recording victim information, case notes, and deadlines.
An advocate involved with crime victims needs to be able to communicate effectively with them, as well as with government officials and representatives of non-profit organizations. They should be able to explain complicated concepts in plain language, and maintain victim confidentiality when dealing with bureaucracy.
Victim Advocate Education Requirements
Individuals who want to become victim advocates typically need to earn an associate or bachelor's degree in social work, psychology, criminal justice, victimology, or a related field. Some master's degree programs in social work or counseling also include coursework in victimology and advocacy.
Aside from formal education, having a social work or counseling background is also desirable. There are certification programs available through the National Organization for Victim Assistance to help you develop the necessary skills.
There also may be training opportunities available through local organizations that provide victim services. These programs typically provide participants with an overview of the victim advocacy field, including the dynamics of victimization, the role of the advocate, and everyday advocacy activities.
If you want to become a victim advocate, a degree isn’t the only requirement. Many states insist on certifications or licenses, which may mean completing an approved training program and passing a written exam. Even though this goes without saying, we'll emphasize that those wishing to apply for this type of job in criminal justice must pass a full background check as well.
Salary and Career Outlook
Victim advocates may work in various settings, including police departments, DA offices, and victim assistance programs. Salary and career outlooks vary depending on the specific position, education level, experience, and employer. However, according to the BLS, the typical victim advocate salaries had a median of $37,610 per year in May 2021.
The demand for these professionals is expected to grow by 17% over the next decade, much faster than the average for all occupations. That means there will be an average of 59,100 vacancies for jobs in this field each year for the next ten years. With the increasing prevalence of human rights violations, victim advocates play an essential role in providing support and resources to those impacted.
How To Become a Victim Advocate
We’ve already discussed the educational and employment requirements candidates for this job should possess. To sum things up, here’s a list of steps toward a successful career in the field.
Get a Degree
If you are interested in joining victim advocacy, consider pursuing at least an associate's or master’s degree in victimology. This discipline examines the psychological effects of victimization and provides insight into how to best support victims. Other than that, you can also study social work, forensic psychology, or criminal justice.
Before you start enquiring about victim advocates and their salary, you’ll need to gain some volunteer experience or complete an internship with a local victim advocacy organization. This will give you firsthand experience in the field and allow you to develop valuable skills. Additionally, networking with other professionals in the victim advocacy field can help you learn more about this career and find potential mentors.
Even though certifications and credentials are not necessary for applying for this job, having at least one will give you a substantial advantage over other candidates. Numerous institutions offer training, with the National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA) chief among them. To obtain NOVA-approved victim advocate certification, you must complete a training program and pass a written exam.
Pass the Background Check
Once you apply for a job position and get selected for the interview, you’ll be required to pass an investigation of your background. The agency will be looking for any criminal records, financial problems, or anything else that might reflect poorly on you. If everything goes well, you should get an offer.
The Challenges of Being a Victim Advocate
Despite the growing demand for victim advocates, this career can be challenging due to the nature of the job. Many victims are hesitant to talk about their experiences, as most have been traumatized. This means victim advocates must be patient and understanding while providing support. Additionally, they must be able to handle stressful situations and work long hours.
The job is often unpredictable and can be emotionally draining. Also, the job description is tremendously varied and can range from working in a police department to helping victims through their court cases. There are many victim advocate careers you can pursue; still, whichever path you take, the dedication to providing support and resources to those who have been impacted by crime will always be at the heart of what you do.
Anyone who has been the victim of a crime knows the aftermath can be just as harrowing as the event itself, sometimes even more so. In addition to dealing with physical and emotional injuries, victims also have to navigate a complex legal system to get justice. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system is often skewed against victims, who can feel powerless and alone during an already difficult time. That's where victim advocates come in. If you're interested in assisting those impacted by injustice while effecting change, then a victim advocate job might be the right choice.