Surviving a crime is one thing. Surviving the months and years after a crime is a whole different feat, however. Being the victim of a crime is often very devastating for most people. Victims will often have to cope with feelings such as terror, grief, anger, confusion, depression, and even guilt.
Navigating the legal system after a crime can also be a daunting task. In truth, many people don’t even know where to turn or how to get started when seeking justice through the legal system.
Victim advocacy, however, is a service that is available to all crime victims. As their name suggests, victim advocates work as representatives for crime victims. These professionals help support victims during their time of need, and may help them with such things as emergency care, basic daily needs, navigating the justice system, finding legal representation, and finding help for mental and emotional problems after a crime.
Nearly anyone who has been the victim of a crime has the right to receive the services of a victim advocate. Victims of violent crimes, however, are more likely to seek or need these services. A person might work with an advocate if she has been the victim of one of the following crimes:
- Child abuse
- Spousal abuse
- Sexual assault
- Attempted murder
- Negligent homicide
Dealing with crime victims can often be very stressful and heart wrenching. Therefore, certain characteristics are necessary when looking to start a victim advocate career. Victim advocates should be very understanding and non-judgmental, for instance, as well as excellent communicators. Professionals in this field must also be very trustworthy, as many victims will find it very hard to trust anyone after their ordeals.
Because they often face the details and see the aftermaths of crimes everyday, victim advocates should also be emotionally strong individuals themselves. Although victim advocates should usually work to keep the best interests of the victims in mind, they should also keep their own interests and health in mind as well. They should, for example, know when to stop and recuperate emotionally, in order to keep doing their jobs.
Why Do We Need Victim Advocates?
How would you feel if you were a victim of a crime? Or your parents? Or your children?
As mentioned above, being a victim of a crime is very frightening and confusing. These individuals will often not know which way to turn and may be overwhelmed with all of the “red tape” and procedures needed in order to seek justice.
Victim advocates, however, provide a shoulder to lean on during this time, as well as a map that can be used to navigate the justice system. They can help victims take care of basic needs, as well as help them find justice.
What Do Victim Advocates Do?
The first step that a victim advocate must take is to make contact with the victim, usually just after a crime. The first meeting is often a very delicate situation, as many victims may be very skittish and find it difficult to trust anyone. Sexual assault victims, for instance, will often be more open to working with a female victim advocate than a man.
After the initial meeting, a victim advocate will then work on getting the victim any emergency medical treatment that may be necessary. If the victim has been physically injured, for instance, they may need to be treated in the emergency room. A victim advocate may try to urge a sexual assault victim to be examined by a doctor and get samples collected into a rape kit directly following the crime. Samples in a rape kit may include swabs of bodily fluids, fingernail scrapings, and any clothing worn during the time of the assault.
Once a victim’s immediate needs are attended to, a victim advocate will also make sure that her other basic needs are attended to as well. For instance, the advocate may make sure that the victim has a safe place to go and has access to such things as a telephone, transportation, and food. Finding a safe place to live might also be necessary, and a victim advocate can usually help a victim do this as well. In order to do this, a victim advocate may help the victim apply for housing and other public assistance.
A victim advocate can also speak on the behalf of a victim, if she so desires. However, an advocate can only contact the people that the victim wishes her to contact, and he can only give out information with the victim’s permission. For instance, the advocate may call and inform any family members or friends of the crime and update them on the victim’s status. The advocate might also contact a victim’s employer to inform them that she will not be showing up to work.
Safety plans are also very important after a crime has been committed, especially if the victim’s aggressor is still walking free. A safety plan usually involves outlining steps that a victim could take should her aggressor make contact with her again. For instance, if a victim sees her assailant near her home or if he calls her on the phone, she should contact the police immediately, or get to a safe public place. The victim advocate will also help the victim perform such actions as getting a restraining order.
Navigating the legal system is one of the most difficult parts for a victim. A victim advocate can be very helpful in the event that the victim needs to take legal action against her assailant, and the advocate is often present through the entire process. For example, an advocate may:
- educate the victim of her legal rights,
- help the victim report the crime to law enforcement,
- be present during questioning,
- help the victim fill out any necessary paperwork,
- find legal representation,
- accompany the victim to court,
- be present during testimony, and
- give the victim a shoulder to lean on during court proceedings.
Even after justice has been served, many victims still find it difficult to move on with their lives. Some may not have employment after their ordeal, for instance, due to physical injuries or oppression from their aggressor. A victim advocate can work with a victim in this instance, and help her create a resume or find employment.
Mental and emotional disorders are also not uncommon after a traumatic experience such as a violent crime. If a victim is in need of mental health services, a victim advocate can refer her to support groups or mental health professionals that can help her down the road to recovery.
Where Do Victim Advocates Work?
Victim advocates may be employed by a number of different facilities, where they can be available to any and all victims in need of their services. They might work in police stations, legal offices, social service offices, and courts. Hospitals, shelters, and non-profit groups might also have victim advocates on staff as well.
What Are the Necessary Education Requirements For a Victim Advocate Career?
You can pursue a victim advocate career a few different ways. Some agencies and organizations might consider training the right people for the job, for instance, but this is usually rare. Most individuals interested in victim advocate careers will usually need to get a formal education. This usually involves earning at least an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree in social work, criminal justice, psychology, or victimology. Some victim advocates might also earn graduate degrees in these areas as well.
Although it is not mandatory, some victim advocates may want to become certified, since certification can lead to more job opportunities and higher wages. To gain certification, advocates must contact the National Organization for Victim Assistance. This organization offers different levels of credentials for advocates, depending on their levels of experience and education.
What is the Average Salary of a Victim Advocate?
The average salary of a victim advocate can vary. For example, victim advocates with higher levels of education will usually earn more money, as will those with more experience.
Victim advocates, however, typically fall under the broad category of social workers, who, in 2010, had a median salary of $42,480, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.