Being the victim of a crime or even just being witness to one can be incredibly stressful. Victims and witnesses may have difficulty coming forward with their stories, dealing with going to court, and coping with what they’ve been through. If you want to use your criminal justice education to help victims and witnesses of crime, consider becoming a victims advocate, also called victim/witness assistant. There are several types of careers in the field of criminal justice that can prepare you to help witnesses and victims of crimes.
Victims Advocate Job Description
Victim advocates may provide a range of services to those who see or are the victims of crime. You may listen to what someone went through or saw and take notes. Throughout the process, you may revisit the story to prepare them for court and help them understand what lawyers will be asking. In addition, it’s likely that you’ll help victims get assistance from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund and get the help they need. This may include setting up counseling services or finding referrals to other mental health services.
The goal of an advocate is to counteract the trauma of crime and violence in victims’ lives. You may work on an on-call basis, reporting to the local police station after a crime to meet with victims. You may offer victims emotional support by listening to them and legal support by helping them get ready for pre-trial and trial dates. Crime can also have a negative impact on the physical, mental, and financial health of victims or witnesses. It’s likely that you’ll assist in this way by securing referrals, providing information on financial assistance, and checking in with victims throughout the process. Starting this career may allow you to help people get through the most difficult times in their lives.
Since victim/witness assistants are hired by state governments and local criminal justice agencies, hiring requirements vary from state to state. In general, you should plan on completing a Bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field. Some departments may require victim/witness assistants to have relevant work experience as well.
How to Become a Victims Advocate
If you’re interested in following this career path, it can be helpful to look at local hiring requirements and ensure that you’re doing everything you can to meet them. As a victim/witness assistant, you may spend your time working with sensitive people and those who need to be handled carefully. Because of this, many employers have stringent education and experience requirements for applicants.
Roanoke, Virginia has a comprehensive victim/witness assistance program. To be qualified for this position, you must have a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, sociology, or psychology. On top of that, you must have three to five years of experience in human services. You may be able to qualify with any combination of education and experience that add up to the same length of time as the given requirements.
You may also have to go through a comprehensive interview process that examines your ability to sympathize with victims and manage the wide number of emotions they experience. As noted by the Victim Witness Assistance Program of Contra Costa County, victims may experience helplessness, frustration, and fear. Being able to handle these feelings is incredibly important.
Most victim/witness assistants have to go through a long training process that enables them to carry out the various duties of the job. What you do and say to a victim or witness may be used in a court of law, so you must always act within the boundaries of the law. You may start by studying the laws of your area and learning about the criminal justice process. Then, you may shadow an experienced victim/witness assistant to see how they interact with victims. Finally, before working on your own, you’ll likely spend a period of time being supervised by an experienced assistant. This permits you to hone your skills and learn how to improve.
Victims Advocate Salary and Career Outlook
If you want to work in the field of human services as an assistant, you may be able to benefit from a very positive job outlook. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that job openings for social services assistants are expected to increase by more than 18% between 2016 and 2026, leading to over 26,500 new job openings by 2026. The nationwide average salary is $64,100 per year.
Salaries for social service and community jobs vary widely between locations. You may earn more if you have a lot of relevant experience and education, as you may bring more to the position. In Washington, D.C. social and community service managers earn an average salary of $107,010 per year, while those in Missouri earn between $37,420 and $60,660 annually on average.
Before you dedicate yourself to a career as a victim/witness assistant, make sure you are capable of hearing about all sorts of crime, even violent and brutal crime. Your job is to assist the victim, so you must be able to put your own sensitivities and feelings to the side in order to be there for the victim. Victim’s advocates are also often involved with pushing legislation designed to protect victims. For example, in April of 2018 victim advocates in North Carolina met to discuss lobbying for House Bill 551, an amended that would “require courts to notify victims’ families of hearing and allowing victims to protect the disclosure of private information and get restitution from defendants.”
If you want to learn more about becoming a victim witness assistant, contact the schools in your area or online, to compare the benefits of their programs!