Online Bachelor's in Forensic Psychology

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How to Become a Victim Advocate

Victim advocates play a vital role in the legal system. Their capacity to support survivors of criminal acts allows them to be instrumental in these individuals’ ability to get back on their feet. It’s a rewarding profession for those who want to give a voice to people who can’t always speak for themselves. Learn how to become a victim advocate through a multistep journey.

counselor with patient

What Does a Victim Advocate Do?

Victim advocates work closely with crime victims to offer a host of services and support. Their goal is to help victims through important tasks in a way that facilitates essential coping and healing. The people for whom they advocate are typically victims of serious crimes or violations, including spousal abuse, attempted murder, battery, sexual assault, and hate crimes.

Some of the support these professionals provide may be directly tied to a crime, such as helping victims navigate the criminal justice system or find a lawyer. They may also provide aid in connecting victims to emergency services or therapy. In some cases, they may provide assistance with basic day-to-day functions.

Victim advocates can work in numerous environments, including courts, police stations, prisons, and nonprofit organizations, such as a domestic violence center. Their responsibilities can vary depending on a few factors, such as their work environment.

Ultimately, the goal of the victim advocate is to provide solace to people who may be overwhelmed following a crime committed against them. It’s a level of support that could make it easier for individuals to seek justice and healing.

Victim Advocate Definition

A victim advocate is someone who helps victims of crime access legal services and vital support as they navigate the justice system and seek reparations. Victim advocates may help victims find legal representation, safe and temporary shelter, emergency healthcare, and emotional support services for coping with trauma, depression, anxiety, and grief. The victim advocate is often on call for help and may attend court hearings with victims to speak on their behalf and provide ongoing support throughout the legal process.

Where Does a Victim Advocate Work?

The work of victim advocates spans a range of settings. Victim advocates may be assigned to victims through government law offices, police departments, courts, medical facilities, social service programs, and nonprofit organizations.

Victim advocates also often accompany victims to court sessions, legal proceedings, support groups, and information sessions to provide emotional and legal assistance.

Steps to Become a Victim Advocate

Being a victim advocate is not an easy task. The role itself can be stressful and emotionally draining. Because of this, it takes a specific skill set and background of victim advocate schooling to succeed in the role. Victim advocates must handle each case with an understanding approach that fosters trust and eschews judgment.

The essential skills typically needed to be an effective victim advocate include the following:

  • Communication skills. Victim advocates must be able to convey a victim’s needs clearly and unambiguously.
  • Interpersonal skills. It’s important that victim advocates develop the ability to connect with people from various social, economic, and educational backgrounds.
  • Listening skills. A victim’s case often contains delicate details. It’s essential that victim advocates fully understand this information.
  • Organizational skills. Because a victim advocate may help victims through multiple tasks, it’s important for them to be able to efficiently prioritize and keep track of various case components.

The minimum education requirement for how to become a victim advocate is a bachelor’s degree. The field of study varies, but the degree may be in psychology, forensic psychology, social work, sociology, or criminal justice. However, those who want to advance into a high-level role in the victim advocacy field need a master’s degree in fields such as criminal justice or behavioral science.

Some programs, such as an online bachelor’s degree in forensic psychology, can prepare students to embark on a path toward becoming a victim advocate through a curriculum built on core psychology and criminal justice courses. Typical psychology courses may include abnormal psychology, social psychology, and human cognition. Common criminal justice courses may include criminal law and procedure, criminal behavior, and police psychology.

While earning a bachelor’s degree can set a person on the right path to pursue a career as a victim advocate, earning a degree doesn’t guarantee entry into the field. This is especially the case with advanced victim advocate positions, which require candidates to hold an advanced degree for consideration.

While victim advocates aren’t required to be certified, attaining certification may potentially lead to more advanced opportunities in the field, since some employers prefer to fill high-level positions with certified individuals. Organizations such as the National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA) can provide victim advocates with information regarding certification.

Victim Advocate Salary

According to PayScale, the median salary of victim advocates in 2020 is about $36,000 a year. A few factors drive this number. First, level of experience can determine a victim advocate’s salary; someone with several years’ experience may be able to earn a salary above the median. Another determining factor is work location. A victim advocate who lives in an area with a high cost of living can anticipate earning more than one who lives in an area where the cost of living is low.

Employment Outlook for Victim Advocates

Victim advocates specialize in disciplines that have robust rates of expected job growth. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasts a 14% increase in employment of people who work in psychology-related occupations and an 11% gain in social work jobs between 2018 and 2028. These rates are substantially higher than the 5% growth forecast for all U.S. occupations in that period.

Learn More About How to Become a Victim Advocate

Victim advocates can provide a voice for those who are often rendered silent as a result of fear, confusion, and feeling overwhelmed. These professionals’ guidance can make it easier for survivors to not only achieve justice but also cope with the impact of a crime on their lives. Learn more about what victim advocates do and how Maryville University can help you start your path toward this noble and critical profession with an online bachelor’s degree in forensic psychology.

Recommended Readings
Going Back to School for Psychology
How Is DNA Profiling Used to Solve Crimes?
Resources and Tips for a Career in Criminal Justice

Sources:
Houston Chronicle, “What Are the Qualifications for Becoming a Victim/Witness Coordinator?”
PayScale, Average Victim Advocate Salary
San Diego County District Attorney, Victim Advocates
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Psychologists
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Social Workers
USLegal, Victim Advocate Law and Legal Definition