Being the victim of a crime can cause short and long-term trauma. Victims deal with fear, grief, anger, depression, even guilt. On top of this, they often need to deal with red tape and the legal process, medical bills from physical injuries, missed work, and other issues that arise from the trauma of victimization.
This is why victim advocacy is such an important and rewarding field. If you’re driven by the idea of helping victims of crimes overcome their trauma, deal with the fallout of the crime against them, find justice and closure, and return to living their lives, you may want to consider becoming a victim advocate.
What does a victim advocate do?
Victim advocates may be employed by non-profit groups dedicated to victim advocacy; they may also be employed by organizations such as police departments, hospitals, legal offices, and courts. Victims Advocacy can be either a governmental or non-governmental job, depending upon the organization that employs the victim advocate. It can be a high-stress job, as advocates are forced to see, hear, and feel the results of often violent and horrible crimes. It’s important that a victim advocate have the mental strength to survive this kind of exposure, and the self-care skills to disconnect from work and recharge when necessary.
While nearly any victim of a crime has the right to speak with a victim advocate, victims of violent crimes are the most likely to need such services. Domestic abuse, sexual assault, battery, hate crimes, and attempted murder are all crimes likely to leave a victim feeling vulnerable and alone. These are the cases where a victim advocate can prove invaluable.
When a victim advocate is assigned to a case, the first thing they must do is connect with the victim. It’s necessary for a good victim advocate to be kind, patient, understanding, and gentle, as many victims are reluctant to trust strangers. When a connection is made, the advocate will address the victim’s immediate needs: emergency medical treatment, rape kits (in the case of sexual assault), and physical safety are priorities. A victim advocate will ensure the victim has a safe place to go with access to basic amenities including food, water, transportation, and a telephone.
If the victim aggressor is still free, the victim advocate may work with the victim to create a safety plan, outlining a plan of action in case the victim comes into contact with the aggressor again. If necessary, the advocate will assist in securing a restraining order and navigating the legal system. This can include educating the victim of his or her legal rights, assisting with paperwork, accompanying the victim to court, assisting with any questioning or other encounters with law enforcement, and generally being a comforting and supportive presence throughout the legal process.
Finally, the victim advocate can help a victim find his or her feet again; if the victim suffered loss of work as a result of the crime against them, the advocate can assist with resume and job search help. The advocate can assist in finding new housing, or in finding a mental health counselor or support group to deal with the aftermath of victimization.
A victim advocate’s work environment is one that involves moving from place to place to address the needs of a victim’s daily life, and may require late or unusual hours.
Victim advocates training & education
Most organizations who hire victims advocates require at least an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, generally in social work, psychology, or criminal justice. Graduate degrees in these areas can also equip a victims advocate to succeed. The National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA) recommends specific victim advocacy training beyond what is taught in a social work degree, but most such training is optional. That said, individual employers may require such training at their discretion, or it may be the deciding factor between two otherwise comparable candidates.
It is likely you're here because you are…
Thinking about or are still in college. This is a great place to be when you are deciding on becoming a victim advocate. We recommend researching which programs mentioned above are offered at your school (or prospective school) and see if there is any emphasis on victim advocacy.
Not yet working in the profession, but have some education. It’s possible you have already obtained an associate’s degree, but haven’t landed a job in the field of victim advocacy yet. We recommend finding an organization that will allow you to work with an associate-level degree. If you enjoy what you are doing, you may want to think about furthering your education to move ahead in the field.
Not yet working in the profession, but have a bachelor's degree. If you already have a bachelor’s degree and work in another field, but you’re thinking about making a career switch and becoming a victim advocate, you might want to consider taking additional courses or completing a training program in the area of victim advocacy. This will allow you to leverage your existing skills and make a smooth transition.
Currently in the profession, but want to advance in your career. If you are currently a victim advocate, but are interested in promoting or advancing in your career, there are a lot of things you can do to achieve this goal. Although it can be an expensive choice, obtaining a higher degree, such as a master’s degree, can be very beneficial. Another great and less costly option is completing the National Advocate Credentialing Program. Although this is not required, it can assist you in achieving a higher knowledge-base and moving up in the ranks.
Victim advocate licensing & certification
There is no required license or certification to be a victim advocate. However, the National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA) does offer a variety of certifications through the National Advocate Credentialing Program (NACP), and these may lead to increased job opportunities or higher wages. The credentialing program is voluntary and generally involves at least forty hours of training; maintaining credentialed status also requires ongoing education.
The Center for Legal Studies offers a Victim Advocacy Certificate Course, available at a number of U.S. universities. Certain U.S. states, including New York, Florida, and Colorado, offer their own training programs. You can view a list of the NACP-approved training programs by state here.
Generally both employers and certification programs will take into account a person’s practical experience, whether it be voluntary or paid. Individuals with a background in law enforcement, social work, or the court system may have an advantage in securing employment, but training is available at all levels, even if you have no practical experience.
Victim advocate salary
The specific field of “victim advocate” doesn’t officially exist in the Bureau of Labor Statistics, so it’s difficult to determine the average annual salary. Generally the vocation falls under the umbrella of social work. In 2016, social workers in the U.S. made a median annual salary of $60,230. The highest paid social workers were those employed by offices of non-physician medical practices, including offices of mental health practitioners, with a mean annual salary of $79,290. The lowest paid social workers, with a mean annual salary of $38,750, were employed by community and social assistance organizations. Other employers included state, local, and federal government agencies; and hospitals.
Outside of the Bureau of Labor Statistics data, there are sites that list victim advocate jobs as a field.
- PayScale lists the median victim advocate salary as $34,580.
- Glassdoor lists it at $34,811
- Indeed lists the average salary as $38,655
Paysa lists average victim advocate salaries in popular cities:
Interested in exploring related social work careers?