Being the victim of a crime can be disorienting; it’s common for victims to feel as though they’ve been violated and that they may never be truly safe again. This is a challenging set of emotions to deal with in any circumstance, but what compounds the problem is that victims must also deal with legal proceedings, complying with law enforcement to ensure that the perpetrator is brought to justice. The field of victim advocacy was developed to provide support to those dealing with this sense of violation, helping them to regain their emotional balance even as they offer cooperation with local police or with criminal prosecution.
Victim advocacy is a promising career field for anyone who desires to make a difference on behalf of the vulnerable or to contribute positively to the justice system. As for how to become a victim advocate, a good first step is seeking a formal education in psychology or a related field. This provides the skills necessary to deliver compassionate victim advocacy.
What Is Victim Advocacy?
Historically, the field of criminology focused almost exclusively on the criminal. To help solve crimes, law enforcement professionals seek to understand the inner motives of wrongdoers, identifying key patterns they can use to strengthen their case or prevent further crimes. Starting in the 1970s, law enforcement professionals began shifting their focus toward understanding the victims. The goal of this advocacy is to guide victims through challenging circumstances, but also to increase their willingness to trust and comply with the prosecution.
Victim advocates are professionals trained to work with victims of crime, with duties ranging from the provision of psychological and emotional support to accompanying the victim to court. More specifically, some responsibilities associated with the victim advocate role include:
- Providing psychological support and therapeutic intervention, helping victims to cope with trauma, stress, depression and other symptoms common to criminal violation
- Informing victims of their full range of legal rights and protections, helping them to feel safe in the justice system
- Assisting victims in completing relevant paperwork and documentation, particularly as related to prosecuting the crime
- Helping victims to develop and implement a plan to keep themselves and their families safe, whether by finding a local shelter or applying for victim compensation funding
Though advocates are primarily concerned with victims’ well-being, they can also provide assistance to law enforcement, earning the trust and cooperation of victims, who may in turn provide helpful information regarding the investigation.
How to Become a Victim Advocate
There are many career options for victim advocates. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 11% job growth for social workers from 2018 to 2028; victim advocacy may be considered a subset of this field.
For anyone wishing to pursue a career in victim advocacy, the first step is seeking the appropriate formal education. Effective advocacy requires not only foundational knowledge of human psychology, but also experience working with individuals undergoing trauma. A bachelor’s degree in psychology, social work, criminal justice or a related field can provide this background.
While an advanced degree isn’t always required, it can help individuals to become more competitive in their field and potentially obtain roles of greater responsibility with higher salaries. Additional training and certification may also be required through institutions that focus on victim advocacy. Victim advocates typically earn certification through the National Organization for Victim Assistance.
Necessary Skills and Work Environment
Those curious about how to become a victim advocate will also want to understand the core skills required and the type of work environment they can expect. Indeed, success in victim advocacy calls for a keen understanding of psychology, applied in situations that may be stressful or high pressure.
Some skills essential to the work of victim advocacy include:
- Offering empathy and understanding to those who are grappling with trauma, stress, or grief
- Assessing a victim’s needs, identifying the kinds of social services or resources that may be relevant
- Providing one-on-one counseling to the victim, helping the victim to process what’s happened
- Developing treatment plans, potentially in collaboration with other health care providers in the area
- Communicating clearly with victims and their families, earning trust and instilling a sense of well-being
- Coordinating with shelters, victim compensation funds or other services in the area
- Providing emotional support to victims and their families
Victim advocates may be employed in many different environments, including law enforcement agencies, local and state government organizations, private practices, rehabilitation facilities, and community facilities. No matter the environment, a foundation in psychology is important for advocates as they seek to help victims to recover from traumatic events. One of the central things to understand about victim advocacy work is that it may often require engagement with victims of violent or otherwise harrowing crimes, and those victims may initially be reticent to talk about their experience. This can create an environment of duress, and it falls to the victim advocate to remain levelheaded even in challenging circumstances.
Learn More About How to Become a Victim Advocate
To learn more about a career in victim advocacy, connect with the online Bachelor of Arts in Psychology degree at Rider University. This program provides a robust curriculum that focuses on core psychological principles and also helps with the cultivation of communication, critical thinking and other essential skills. Find out more about the program today.