In basic terms, a victim advocate in the criminal justice system is a person who has had professional training designed to support and assist crime victims. In the 21st century, the victim advocate has come to play an important (and expanding) role in the criminal justice system. Understanding the role played by the victim advocate is vital to appreciating the overall working of the criminal justice system in this day and age.
General Duties of a Victim Advocate in the Criminal Justice System
The role of a victim advocate does vary from one jurisdiction to another. With that said, there are a set of generalized duties that are undertaken by a victim advocate in most jurisdictions in which these professionals are in service. These general responsibilities include:
- Provide information on crime victimization
- Provide information on crime victim’s rights
- Provide information on crime protections
- Provide information on crime prevention
- Provide information on the processes of the criminal justice system
- Provide emotional support to a crime victim
- Aid a crime victim with safety planning
- Assist a crime victim in seeking available compensation
- Help a crime victim prepare statements and comments for courts
- Help a crime victim prepare statement and comments for parole boards
- Intervene on behalf of a crime victim with employer landlord, creditors, and others
- Help a crime victim find secure shelter
- Assist a crime victim find transportation
- Provide appropriate and necessary referral for a victim of crime
- Notify a crime victim of an inmate’s upcoming parole hearing, release, or escape
Where a Crime Victim Advocate is Found
A crime victim advocate can be found in a number of different areas within the criminal justice system. Indeed, each jurisdiction has different ways in which victim advocates are utilized and placed within the overall criminal justice system
Police departments: A growing number of police (and sheriff) departments in the United States have added victim advocates to their professional teams. These victim advocates typically make contact with a crime victim immediately after an incident.
Court systems: A majority of court systems in the United States (on the state, local, and federal levels) have included professional victim advocates within their structures. For example, in state courts, victim advocates can be found that assist victims of domestic violence with everything from obtaining orders of protection to filing complaints with law enforcement to providing support during the prosecution of an alleged abuser.
State victim resource agencies: A majority of states now have specific agencies established to provide victim support, resources, and even compensation for crime victims. An example of such an agency is the California Victim Compensation Board. These types of agencies are examples of how a victim advocate aids in obtaining financial compensation for losses and expenses sustained by a victim of crime. For example, through this type of agency, a victim can obtain compensation for professional crime scene cleanup.
Prosecutors’ offices: An increasing number of prosecutors in different jurisdictions are adding victim advocates to their teams. This serves to not only provide direct assistance to a victim of crime but to prepare a victim to participate in the criminal prosecution process, including testifying in court.
Prisons: Slowly but somewhat surely correctional facilities are adding victim advocates to their teams. These professionals typically are added to prison staffs as part of what are known as restorative justice programs.
Probation and parole agencies: Finally, in this day and age, an increasing number of probation and parole departments of agencies are adding victim advocates to their teams. The reality is that a considerable number of offenders are sentenced to terms of probation and nearly all sentences of incarceration on the local, state, and federal levels are followed by terms of probation (or supervised release on the federal level).
Victims’ Rights, the Victim Advocate, and the Criminal Justice System
The rise of the victim advocate within the criminal justice system stems from the development of what oftentimes is called the “victims’ bill of rights.” The reality is that the criminal justice system broadly speaking has delineated certain rights of victims that are to be protected in the aftermath of a crime. These basic victims’ rights are:
- Right to Be Treated with Dignity, Respect, and Sensitivity
- Right to Be Informed
- Right to Protection
- Right to Apply for Compensation
- Right to Restitution from the Offender
- Right to Prompt Return of Personal Property
- Right to a Speedy Trial
- Right to Enforcement of Victims’ Rights
If you’re the victim of a crime and desire the assistance of a victim advocate (and have not been provided with one), contact the responsible prosecutor’s office or the clerk of the court for information about the availability of this type of professional to assist you. This type of advocate truly can provide vital and meaningful assistance to you when you’re the victim of a crime.