What Is a Victim Advocate?
Victim advocates are professionals trained to support victims of crime. Advocates offer victims information, emotional support, and help finding resources and filling out paperwork. Sometimes, advocates go to court with victims. Advocates may also contact organizations, such as criminal justice or social service agencies, to get help or information for victims. Some advocates staff crisis hotlines, run support groups, or provide in-person counseling. Victim advocates may also be called victim service providers, victim/witness coordinators, or victim/witness specialists.
The Responsibilities of a Solicitor’s Victim/Witness Advocate
- Accompanies victims/witnesses to court
- Assists with the preparation and distribution of Victim Impact Statements (VIS)
- Coordinates victims/witnesses with other programs and services
- Facilitates the victim’s right to confer with the prosecutor prior to disposition
- Informs victims/witnesses of case status and provides notice of scheduled proceedings
- Prepares victims/witnesses for court appearances
- Provides crisis intervention
- Provides orientation/overview of the criminal justice system and the court process
- Provides safety plans for victims
- Serves as a liason between prosecutors and victims/witnesses
How Advocates Work with Victims
Advocates offer victims information about the different options available to them and support victims’ decision-making. Advocates do not tell victims what to do. Advocates are committed to maintaining the highest possible levels of confidentiality in their communications with victims. However, the level of confidentiality they can observe depends on their position, education, licensure, and the laws in each state. An advocate in a police department may have to share any information related to an investigation with officers. Yet an advocate at a domestic violence program may be able to keep most victims’ confidences private. However, all advocates must report certain types of information to the authorities. For example, they have to report any type of threat to a person (such as clients threatening to hurt themselves or someone else), and they have to report the abuse or neglect of children. It is important for victims to ask about confidentiality rules before they begin working with the advocate.
If You Are a Victim
It may be difficult for you to reach out for help. But you may find that victim advocates can offer you information, support, and access to helpful services you might not want to know about. Victims are often relieved to know that agencies in their community want to make sure they are safe and have the help they need to recover from the impact of the crime.