A victim’s advocate supports and advises the victims of crimes. They help victims and their families get the help and support they need to heal and rebuild their lives after a crime against them has been committed.
Navigating the aftermath of a crime is difficult without good guidance. Emotional and physical healing take priority, but there is so much more that may need to take place. Survivors often have to testify at trials and thus relive some of the worst moments of their lives. Situations become even more complicated when dependents such as children also need care and comfort.
Many victims have no idea what resources are available to them after a crime. This can lead to additional suffering and a bigger struggle to take care of basic daily needs.
Victim advocates may work for a government office or at a nonprofit agency
Survivors of violent crimes are particularly reliant on victim advocates, but other types of crimes also leave emotional and financial scars. Many victim advocates work directly in the criminal justice system and provide support for survivors and their families that have experienced a wide range of violent crimes, including rape and murder.
Others find rewarding work at nonprofit agencies, where there may be a focus on one particular type of victim, such as domestic violence. However, the advocate will still need to help people with a variety of problems. While physical abuse is the definition of domestic violence, there is also verbal abuse, and drug and alcohol issues often play a role.
Advocates make sure that survivors and their families know their rights
When someone experiences a violent crime, they must know their rights as a survivor or a family member of a survivor. This may include certain protections to ensure they remain safe until the perpetrator is apprehended or goes through a trial.
In extreme cases, survivors may need greater protections than those typically offered. An advocate will answer questions and ensure they know what legal and social protections they are entitled to.
Advocates can help survivors find safe housing in the aftermath of a crime. For example, if their home is damaged during a crime, they can help them get the damages repaired quickly so they can move back into their home if desired.
Advocates ensure survivors know what mental health resources are available
Counseling and other mental health services are essential to the healing process. Mental health resources are often seen as too expensive for many people to utilize fully. A victim’s advocate can help survivors and their families get the counseling and support they need to work through their issues and start healing as soon as possible. The sooner families get the help they need, the better.
The emotional load of experiencing a violent crime or having a family member hurt as a result never entirely goes away. Still, with good mental health resources and the support of a victim advocate, the emotional well-being of survivors and their families can be improved and allow them to have a better life.
Victims of crimes are often entitled to compensation and other financial resources
The loss of ability to work due to injuries or mental and emotional instability can mean that survivors need some financial means to support themselves and their families while they heal.
Advocates help survivors understand their right to monetary compensation. Money may be available via funds set aside for victims of violent crimes. Offenders may also be forced to pay some restitution as punishment. Therefore, it is important to have an advocate to help survivors find and apply for the financial resources they need.
Advocates help victims get their property back after a crime
One of the rights that survivors of a crime is to get back any personal property that holds value to them. Advocates can ensure that survivors know that, at some point, they can get their property back or at least get some compensation for it. Advocates can sometimes speed up this process by making inquiries and ensuring the process is smooth and not unnecessarily delayed.
A career as a victim advocate is extremely rewarding
If you love helping others, a career as a victim advocate might be for you. As an advocate, you can help people heal from traumatic circumstances. In addition, you will help people get the justice and resources they deserve and need.
At the end of each day, you have the peace of knowing that you have dedicated your life to helping others heal and go on to have a better future no matter what they have experienced.
Victim advocates must have strong emotional resiliency
Faced with the daily aftermath of crimes means that an advocate must be emotionally strong and stable. At the end of the day, it may be hard not to think about the survivors and what they are going through. Learning to have a good work-life balance is essential to being a good advocate. Being too emotionally stressed can reflect on the level of support and empathy you show toward those you are trying to help.
Part of victim advocacy may involve helping families make difficult decisions and arrangements after a crime. This may include helping organize memorials or even funerals after a crime.
Advocates help families get medical services and pay for healthcare
The survivors of violent crime often have to spend time and money on medical treatments. Lengthy hospital stays are not uncommon. Surgery and physical therapy costs add up fast. Advocates help survivors get the medical care they need while protecting their finances. If the perpetrator of a crime is caught, they are often held responsible for the medical costs their victims incur. Of course, many crimes take time to solve and even longer to catch the person responsible, so in the meantime, the survivors must get financial help.
A good career in justice
The criminal justice system needs good people for a variety of jobs. Working as a law enforcement officer is not something everyone wants to do or is physically capable of doing, so being a victim advocate is another way to play a strong role in the justice system.
As a victim advocate, you will work closely with officers, investigators, and lawyers to ensure crime victims get the respect and resources they are entitled to.
Advocates need to be good at empathizing
It is easy to judge others. As an advocate, you must be good at looking at all the circumstances surrounding a victim’s case. Victim blaming is common, especially with crimes such as rape. It is important to make sure that when you speak, you do it in a way that cannot be construed as placing some of the blame on the survivor.
It is critical to the healing process that crime victims never feel like they are responsible for what happened to them. Therefore, advocates must be listeners and use appropriate body language when listening to survivors. A survivor needs to know that you are listening and on their side no matter what.
Social workers that want a career change should consider becoming a victim advocate
Social work is quite similar to victim advocacy. The major difference is that a victim advocate works with victims of crimes rather than people that need assistance due to a wide range of social and economic problems. Social workers often work with victim advocates to provide people with access to resources.
If you already have a degree in social work and some experience, you might consider making a career change and start work within the criminal justice system.
Criminal justice degrees offer many career options, including victim advocacy
Many different degrees can qualify you for a job as a victim advocate although some degree options offer more career opportunities than others. A criminology degree, for example, can qualify you for a job in law enforcement as a probation officer, victim advocate, crime scene analyst, and more. Laurier University offers a combined Honors BA in Criminology and Policing via a 100% online curriculum. Even if you have yet to gain prior law enforcement or criminology experience, you can get the education you need to make a career change.
A combined BA is an excellent choice for those graduating high school but who want an online college degree option that allows maximum scheduling flexibility.
Growing demand for criminal justice workers
With a rise in crime comes a need for more victim advocates and other workers in the criminal justice system. Economic conditions, drug addiction rates, and more have led to an increase in violent crimes that will take some time to get under control. Now is a good time to gain the education and skills you need to be a victim advocate.
If you like the idea of being able to find work throughout the country, then the criminal justice system and victim advocacy can give you that flexibility. In addition, this allows you to get the best salary for your skills and education level.
Of course, over time, you may decide to work somewhere else or move closer to some of your family. However, victim advocates and criminologists can find work in many environments.
Are there requirements besides a degree to be a victim advocate?
While relevant education is important, there are other requirements that employers may want you to fulfill. The type of requirements will vary by employer, but, typically, you will need to pass a background and criminal check. If you do have a criminal record, it does not necessarily mean you cannot work as an advocate but, again, this will depend on the employer. Many nonprofit groups employ people who have cleaned up their lives and dedicated themselves to helping others have a better life.
Many employers require a pre-employment drug screen; others may do random drug testing as a condition for continued employment.
There may be specific licenses and certifications you need to get either before employment or during a probationary training period.
Victim advocates may need to work odd hours
With many criminal justice jobs, there is always the possibility of having to work at odd hours. Being on call is part of being there for survivors. Crime doesn’t happen on a schedule. If you need an advocacy job that maintains more traditional hours, consider that when applying. Nonprofit agencies may be a better fit for you.
You have to be well-organized to be a good advocate
Working as a victim advocate means you will be working with many different people and involved in many cases. Therefore, you must have an excellent organizational system in place for each person and case. Staying organized will allow you to offer better support and avoid feeling confused and overwhelmed when dealing with multiple stressful cases and situations.
Victim advocates are a critical component of the criminal justice system as well as nonprofit agencies. Without victim advocates, it is much harder for survivors of crimes to find the resources they need to heal and move on with their lives.
A strong demand for victim advocates is set to continue throughout the next decade. Those who want a fulfilling job that allows them to help many people should strongly consider earning a degree and entering the criminal justice system as a victim advocate.