Victims Advocate: Career Guide
Career opportunities for victim advocates (or victims' advocates) are increasing as more social service organizations recognize the importance of having a trained professional on staff to work with the victims of crime or abuse. These positions are available in a wide array of fields, including criminal justice, social services, and community outreach. Victim advocates are an integral part of the social services landscape. They have been common in larger cities and suburban areas for some time, but now even smaller communities are seeing the benefits of supporting programs for victims of crime and abuse. These professionals are often employed by non-profit organizations, state or federal legal offices, and shelters and community centers.
Career Description, Duties, and Common Tasks
A victim advocate helps victims cope with the stress and the trauma that follows a crime or abuse. Victims often have to manage psychological, physical, financial, and/or emotional stress. A victims' advocate provides assistance to individuals who need help dealing with the fallout from a traumatic experience. An advocate may:
- Offer emotional support on a one-on-one basis or by leading a support group
- Help victims create a safety plan and find a safe place to go
- Inform victims about their rights and what they can expect from the legal process
- Assist victims in completing and submitting applications for victims' compensation
- Accompany victims to court hearings and other legal proceedings
- Contact victims if their aggressor has been paroled or has escaped from prison
Victim advocates are required to maintain confidentiality to protect victims. As a result, an extensive background investigation may be likely, especially for those candidates who want to work with a government agency.
Steps for Becoming a Victims Advocate
Most professional victim advocates have either an associate's, bachelor's, or master's degree in psychology, criminal justice, social work, or education. Some organizations require a master's degree. Coursework is frequently coupled with intense practical training in social work. Victim advocates must hone their listening skills and be familiar with the resources available for victims of crime. To become a victims advocate, you should expect a process similar to the one below.
- Acquire the degree and/or experience required for a victim advocate job.
- Apply to a victims advocate job.
- Be interviewed.
- Pass a background investigation.
- Be drug tested.
- Be hired as a victims' advocate.
- Receive training on-the-job once hired.
Victims Advocate Job Training
Many employers prefer that prospective advocates have previous experience working with victims of crime or abuse. Experience may be from volunteer work, an internship, or a previous position in law enforcement or social work. Advocates are not required by law to possess any specific professional credential to practice, although in some states they may be required to become licensed as social workers. The National Organization for Victim Assistance offers a voluntary National Advocate Credentialing Program that leads to professional credentialing. The program allows victim advocates to earn four different levels of credentialing. The entry-level provisional credential requires candidates to have successfully completed a 40-hour training program. More information about the National Advocate Credentialing Program can be found at Trynova.org.
Other Helpful Skills and Experience
Advocates generally work with individuals who are emotionally and/or physically traumatized. A victims' advocate should possess empathy, the ability to listen, and a desire to help others. Individuals with experience in law enforcement, social work, or the court system may have an advantage when it comes to finding employment. Advocates who speak a second language fluently may also find more employment opportunities, especially if they live in a culturally diverse area.
Possible Job Titles for This Career
- Victim Coordinator
- Victim Service provider
- Victim Specialist
- Witness Coordinator
- Witness Specialist
Victims Advocate Salary and Job Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide data on salary for victims advocates. However, social and human service assistants perform closely similar tasks. According to the BLS, social and human service assistants earn a median annual salary of $33,120.1 Job growth for these professionals is expected to reach 16% through 2026, which is much faster than the average for all other occupations.1
- Conservation Officer
- Criminal Investigator
- FBI Agent
- Fire Investigator
- First-Line Supervisor of Correctional Officers
- Fish and Game Warden
- Homicide Detective
- Narcotics Officer
- Police Officer
- United States Park Police
- US Marshal
- Crime Scene Investigator
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: What type of schedule does a victims advocate work?
Answer: Advocates can expect to work a full-time schedule, including scheduled shifts on nights and weekends. Advocates must be prepared to be on call for clients experiencing personal emergencies or for new clients who have recently been victimized.
Question: Are victim advocates mandated reporters?
Answer: Yes. Mandated reporters are individuals who have contact with vulnerable individuals and have a legal duty to report abuse. While advocates generally keep victims' information confidential, they must legally report certain information, including threats victims make against others (or threats others make against the victim); threats of self-harm; and observed or suspected child neglect or abuse.
Question: Are all victims' advocates' responsibilities the same?
Answer: No. All advocates are there to provide emotional support to victims. However, the specific day-to-day responsibilities vary depending on the organization for which the advocate works. Some victims' advocates, for example, may be responsible for covering an organization's crisis hotline while others may not.
Question: Do all victims advocates earn a salary?
Answer: No. Some work in volunteer positions, offering the same type of support as a paid advocate.
- National Organization for Victim Assistance: A national resource for victims of crime and victim advocates.
- Office for Victims of Crime: The National Victim Assistance Academy provides training for a career as a victim advocate.
- The National Center for Victims of Crime: A resource for victims advocates and victims of crime.
- Victim Support Services: A guide to victim support, including victims advocates.
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Social and Human Service Assistants: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-and-human-service-assistants.htm