A victim advocate is a person who works in the criminal justice system and acts as a support to victims of crime by offering a variety of services, ranging from legal assistance to emotional help. He or she generally has an educational background in criminal justice, social services, or a similar field, in addition to experience in working with individuals going through traumatic circumstances. Advocates are usually available through local law enforcement stations or other state or regional government attorney offices. Their services may also be offered by nonprofit advocacy groups for particular crimes, such as domestic abuse organizations or rape crisis centers.
One of the main types of service a victim advocate will generally provide first, after he or she comes into contact with a victim, is immediate emergency relief or assistance. This usually occurs right after the crime occurs or is reported. The emergency relief can include any type of aid required to meet a victim’s basic needs after a crime, such as providing him or her with shelter, food, or any other immediate needs.
Another type of immediate service provided by these individuals are the notifications to third parties to inform them of the crime and the victim’s condition. A victim may request that the advocate speak with his or her family members or friends to let them know about the situation. An advocate may also take care of other practical matters, such as notifying the victim’s employer about the crime if he or she cannot return to work. If a victim is seriously physically injured or suffering from emotional issues that prevent him or her from working, an advocate can contact the victim’s creditors and attempt to work out a temporary pause or reduction in payments.
Once a victim’s immediate needs are taken care of, an advocate will typically then begin to help guide the victim through the different steps of the legal process. A victim may not know how to report the crime, fill out necessary paperwork, or offer court testimony, or he or she may be too traumatized or physically injured to do so. Victim advocates may counsel victims on how to most effectively testify as a witness in court, how to file a restraining order to prevent the alleged criminal from contacting him or her, or how to retrieve property that was used as evidence once the case is completed.
Advocates also offer emotional support to victims of crime to help them deal with the aftermath and any emotional issues that result from it. Victims may receive counseling directly from their advocates. If a crime victim experiences extensive problems after the crime, his or her advocate may recommend a support group so the victim can interact with others who experienced the same events. If victims appear to be suffering from mental issues that interfere with their ability to function in everyday life, such as depression or post traumatic stress disorder, advocates may then refer them to psychiatrists who specialize in crisis counseling.