What is a Victim Advocate?

Victim AdvocateFor crime victims, the terror, grief, anger, confusion, depression, and guilt can last for months and years after the crime. And they often have to navigate the complexities of the legal system even as they struggle with these emotional traumas.

Victim advocates are professionals trained to support crime victims by helping them cope with stress and trauma, connect with mental health resources, track down information on potential compensatory damages, and fill out necessary legal paperwork. Advocates provide wraparound services throughout a victim’s entire ordeal, including going to court and contacting relevant social service and criminal justice agencies.

Let’s take a closer look at what it means to be a victim advocate.

What Does a Victim Advocate Do?

Victim advocates guide injured people through the investigative and legal processes that happen after a crime. This process is complex and difficult to navigate even for those who work inside the system. For outsiders, it can be a nightmare. Victims often feel marginalized or ignored by the legal system. Sometimes the legal processes actually inflict even more trauma on the victim. A skilled victim advocate can prevent that from happening.

Though any crime victim has a right to advocacy services, survivors of violent crimes are much more likely to seek these services. Advocates typically represent victims of:

  • Child abuse
  • Spousal abuse
  • Sexual assault
  • Attempted murder
  • Negligent homicide
  • Assault
  • Battery

Victim advocates need knowledge of criminology, criminal justice, jurisprudence, and organizational and behavioral psychology. This knowledge enables victim advocates to address a diverse range of challenges within sensitive and difficult situations that intersect with the complexities of the legal system.

The duties can be very fluid, but some challenges come up repeatedly. Victim advocates frequently have to be a counselor, coordinator, case manager, translator, and mediator—sometimes all in the same day.

“Advocates must be able to navigate multiple worlds within the criminal justice system, working with law enforcement, courts, prosecutors, witnesses, and social service agencies,” said Rachel Johnston, Ph.D., program director of criminology and criminal justice at Adler University.

On some days, advocates go to court with victims. Other days, advocates will simply listen to the questions and concerns of victims. A big part of the job is helping victims manage psychological, physical, financial, and emotional stress.

Aside from navigating the legal system, advocates may help victims with such things as finding emergency care, completing basic daily errands, and getting help for mental and emotional side effects.

Who Makes a Good Victim Advocate?

Someone who is:

  • Motivated by empathy for the plight of victims
  • Outstanding at interpersonal communication
  • Sympathetic, understanding, and patient
  • Excellent at written and oral communication, and presentation
  • Community-oriented, and adept at developing knowledge about local resources
  • Interested in crisis intervention, counseling, and safety planning
  • Qualified with a bachelor’s degree and further degrees or certifications in criminology, criminal justice, counseling, or related fields

Interested in Becoming a Victim Advocate?

If you want to become a victim advocate, check out this video to learn why one woman who started out as a victim decided to become a victim advocate.

How to Become an Advocate

The path to becoming a victim advocate usually starts with a bachelor’s degree in criminology or criminal justice, psychology, counseling, or a related field. Many victim advocates complete a master’s degree in criminology and criminal justice, though students often take years off between undergraduate and graduate school to gain real-world experience.

Most victim advocate positions require a bachelor’s degree at a minimum, but master’s degrees are preferred. With a master’s degree in criminology and criminal justice, victim advocates can pursue positions managing or leading programs at agencies. Victim advocates with a graduate degree are likely to create crisis intervention plans and supervise other victim advocates.

“Students are taught that communities and the institutions within them impact the health and well-being of individuals,” Johnston said. By studying criminology and criminal justice, students build an understanding of how public institutions interact with the diverse population of people they serve, including victims, offenders, professionals, and their communities.

Victim advocate and legal system professionals teach the Adler University program. This expertise gives students the opportunity to learn from people with firsthand experience representing victims’ interests.

Other titles for people who do this type of work:

  • Victim service providers
  • Victim/witness coordinators
  • Victim/witness specialists
  • Crime victim liaison
  • Crisis advocate
  • Family advocate counselor

Where Do Victim Advocates Work?

Victim advocates often work for nonprofit organizations, state or federal legal offices, shelters, and community centers. Some work as independent, self-employed consultants.

Victim advocate jobs are numerous in larger cities and suburban areas, especially for people who are bilingual. Recently, smaller communities have started support programs for victims of crime and abuse, so new victim advocate jobs are becoming available in those areas. The military also hires civilian victim advocates for its sexual harassment/assault response program, known as SHARP.

Victim Advocate Salaries

The average annual salary for a victim advocate can range from $34,648 to $54,000, based on public and private surveys.

A snapshot:

  • Indeed.com: $54,000
  • Glassdoor.com: $34,648
  • SimplyHired.com: $50,000

A master’s degree will give victim advocate candidates a leg up in the hiring process, and also will position them well to rise quickly to managing or leading victim advocacy programs at local, state, and nonprofit agencies.

What Kinds of Programs Can Help Victim Advocates?

A number of schools, professional groups, and other organizations offer training, workshops, and conferences that can be excellent supplements to a victim advocate’s work experience and criminology and criminal justice master’s degree.

A victim advocate can also earn a credential from the National Advocate Credentialing Program (NACP), which provides four credential grades: provisional, basic, intermediate, and advanced. To earn certification, you need to be trained in fundamental topics such as case management and the trauma of victimization. There’s also a work experience requirement for NACP certification.

Conferences can be an excellent source of professional development. Notable conferences:

  • National Training Institute, by the National Center for Victims of Crime
  • NOVA Conference, by the National Organization for Victim Assistance
  • Annual Victim Advocate Conference, by the Arizona Coalition for Victim Services

Victim advocates who pursue more training and professional development frequently find more success in their work on behalf of crime victims.

Best of the Web: Favorite Victim Advocate Websites and Twitter Handles

The Web makes it easy to connect with prominent victim advocacy resources. Here are some of our favorite websites and Twitter handles, in no particular order.

Victim Advocate Resources and Websites

Prominent Victim Advocate Twitter Handles

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