National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, is April 10-16, 2011, and agencies all over the country are stepping up to honor not only survivors of crime, but those who serve victims. Most states have enacted laws, constitutional amendments, and/or statutes that protect the rights of victims during case prosecution. For example, Michigan amended the state constitution in 1988 ensuring the victim’s right to be involved in the court process. This amendment led to the creation of victim advocates in all the prosecutor offices throughout the state.
The victim advocate answers questions about the case and court process, assist the victim in meeting needs associated with the victimization and makes referrals to outside support agencies. For example, in domestic violence cases, victims may be directed to the local domestic violence program for peer counseling, shelter or other support services while at the same time receiving victim advocacy through the prosecutor’s office. The victim advocate also keeps the victim informed of important developments in the case such as continuances, dismissals and appeals.
The job of a victim advocate requires that the individual be someone with empathy who enjoys working with people. Since the advocate is meeting people at a time of trauma or crisis, it is important that this person be able to communicate with the victim in a non-threatening and supportive manner. Most states require that a victim advocate have a minimum of a high school diploma and some experience working with victims of crime. A number of agencies are moving toward requiring an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field in order to work as a victim advocate.
Victim advocate positions are not limited to prosecutor offices. Victim advocates may work for schools, social service departments, domestic violence programs or shelters or a host of other locations. Work environments are usually in offices or courtroom settings. The advocate has regular contact with victims, law enforcement, hospital personnel, attorneys, court clerks, and judges. The responsibilities include providing support and information for the victim during the court process, advocating for the victim’s rights during the process and maintain the safety and security of the victim during the process.
The job of a victim advocate is an exciting and rewarding position. Victim advocates often bring the court process together for crime victims and help them reach resolution in cases. Victim advocates are human services professionals working to make the court process more user friendly to those already traumatized by crime.