What Does a Victim Advocate Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image by Adrian Manegl. © The Balance 2019

A victim advocate acts as a liaison between a crime victim and the criminal court. The advocate advises the victim as to how the criminal justice system works through its processes.

Victims need to understand their legal rights and to be aware of what will happen next as their case is adjudicated. They must relive their traumas repeatedly during police investigations and the subsequent trial for the criminal justice system to work. Victims must recount their version of events in police interviews and court testimony. Advocates do all they can to mitigate the effects of rehashing the trauma.

Victim Advocate Duties & Responsibilities

Victim advocates have a wide range of duties, all of them geared toward helping crime victim cope with the trauma that the crime has brought about and navigate the criminal justice system. These responsibilities can include:

  • Counsel crime victims and witnesses.
  • Refer the victim to other government agencies or nonprofits that have the expertise and capacity to provide the needed services when crime victims need services that are beyond the advocate’s ability to provide.
  • Maintain strong working relationships with staff at providing organizations.
  • Recruit providers to expand the breadth and depth of available services and to mitigate impact when an existing provider experiences reductions in budget, staff, or volunteers.
  • Transport victims to court and stand by them during court proceedings.
  • Assist victims in filing protective orders.
  • Help victims seek restitution.
  • Notify victims when their offenders have been transferred to other correctional facilities, have parole hearings, or are released from jail or prison.

Victim advocates keep statistics on the people they serve and the services they provide to them. These statistics help them and their management develop budgets, allocate staff, and plan contracts. Statistics are also provided to other entities, such as courts, police departments, and researchers.

Victim Advocate Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median incomes for social workers in general in 2018 were:

  • Median Annual Salary: $49,470 ($23.78/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $81,400 ($39.13/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $30,750 ($14.78/hour)

Education, Training & Certification

Victim advocates are employed by police departments, prosecutors’ offices, criminal courts, and nonprofit organizations. Other than the ones who work in nonprofits, advocates are selected through the normal government hiring process.

  • Education: Most postings for victim advocate positions require a bachelor’s degree with some relevant experience, and a master’s degree is preferred. Victim advocates tend to have degrees in social work, psychology, or criminal justice.
  • Background Checks: These positions may require more extensive background checks than most other government jobs given the sensitive and confidential information victim advocates access in their daily work.

Victim Advocate Skills & Competencies

Certain qualities and skills will help you succeed as a victim advocate:

  • Communication skills: This is a highly verbal profession. Choosing and using the right words can be critical to a victim's peace of mind. Bilingual skills are a plus, especially in geographic areas with diverse populations.
  • Interpersonal skills: A capacity for compassion and empathy is critical.
  • Problem-solving skills: You'll need an analytical mind to weigh and assess the best options for victims in various situations.
  • Organizational skills: This occupation isn't just about people. You must accurately and meticulously maintain records and make them available to others, sometimes on a moment's notice.

    Job Outlook

    The U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics anticipates job growth for social workers in general to be in the area of 16% through 2026, which is faster than average for all occupations.

    Work Environment

    You might find yourself in an office, a victim's home, hospital, shelter, or clinic at any given hour on any given day. Police officers, detectives, and crime scene investigators might call victim advocates to crime scenes to counsel individuals mere minutes or hours after a crime has taken place.

    This can be a mobile profession, but you'll have an office as your home base, and you might sometimes counsel people in your office. You might also find yourself helping victims by telephone in an emergency, or even by email or text.

    Work Schedule

    This is generally a full-time occupation, although about 20% of all social workers in general worked part time in 2016, according to the BLS.

    Victim advocates in particular might find themselves summoned to help at a moment's notice on off hours, but they can be scheduled for on-call duty on a rotating basis to deal with such situations. Such a schedule means that advocates can rest assured that on most nights, at least, they won’t be called to a crime scene at 4 a.m.

    How to Get the Job

    CHECK OUT ONLINE SCHOOLS

    If this field interests you but you're not in a position in life where you can easily attend school, check out the list of online schools provided by Criminal Justice Programs. The site offers links to the schools for more information.

    FIND JOB LISTINGS

    The National Center for Victims of Crime offers postings of job openings specific to this career.

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