Becoming a Victim Advocate: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a victim advocate? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a victim advocate is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Victim Advocate

Becoming a victim advocate can be a highly rewarding way to help others who are in need as a result of crimes committed against them. Read on to weigh the pros and cons of a career in this field.

Pros of a Victim Advocate Career
Chance to help those directly affected by crime**
Strong growth field (expected 19% employment growth for social workers from 2012-2022)*
Can enter this field with just a bachelor's degree (on-the-job training generally provided)*
Can perform a variety of job duties (find resources for victims, work on crisis hotlines, set up support groups)**

Cons of a Victim Advocate Career
Many employers want applicants with at least 1-2 years of experience in the field***
Often large case loads and unpredictable hours*
Jobs with government organizations can be limited by budget constraints*
Potential stress related to the difficult circumstances surrounding victims of crime**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **National Center for Victims of Crime, ***CareerBuilder and Monster.com job postings.

Essential Career Information

Job Description

As trained professionals offering support to those directly affected by crime, victim advocates can provide a variety of services to victims ranging from legal assistance to emotional support. They help locate information and resources as well as connect victims with appropriate criminal justice agencies or social service organizations. As an advocate, you may work directly within the criminal justice system or for private non-profit groups like child abuse programs or sexual assault crisis organizations.

You'll aim to provide relevant information benefiting victims in their decision-making processes while striving to never make decisions for them. As an advocate, you must establish as high a standard of confidentiality as possible given your work environment. Working with a non-profit organization will allow you to maintain the greatest amount of privacy while working directly with law enforcement means information given by a victim can be disclosed if pertinent to an investigation.

Salary Information and Job Outlook

Social workers, including victim advocates, earned a median annual income of approximately $42,120 in May 2014, while the bottom ten percent brought in around $27,500, according to the BLS. The top ten percent earned around $72,510 for the same time period, the BLS reported.

Job growth in this field was expected to be solidly above average with expected 19% growth in the field of social work overall from 2012-2022, as well as 15% growth in child, family and school social workers for the same time period, according to BLS data. Greater awareness of child abuse cases could spur job growth for advocates who play a prominent role in abuse investigations. However, among government positions, growth could potentially be curtailed somewhat by budget constraints.

Career Training and Requirements

Education requirements for victim advocates vary based on the position type and level of responsibility involved. According to the National Center for State Courts, victim advocates generally need a bachelor's degree in social work, criminal justice, psychology or a similar field. You'll then acquire much of the knowledge related to day-to-day responsibilities and procedures through on-the-job training. If you aim to oversee other victim advocates, you may ultimately need to pursue graduate studies. To work in this field, you'll need to have compassion for clients who are in difficult situations. You'll also need time management skills to handle heavy caseloads and the ability to listen to your clients.

What Employers Are Looking For

Education is an important factor when employers are looking to hire an advocate. Perhaps more significant, though, are the intangible people skills, communication effectiveness and level of compassion applicants are able to demonstrate. Here are some actual job postings from April 2012:

  • A social service organization in Arkansas was seeking a victim advocate with a bachelor's degree, excellent communication skills and 1-2 years of experience in a social service atmosphere.
  • A non-profit in Iowa was looking for a law enforcement advocate with a bachelor's degree and two years domestic violence experience to work in coordination with the local police department.
  • A non-profit health agency in Connecticut was searching for a bilingual domestic violence adult advocate with a bachelor's degree or an associate's degree coupled with at least two years of experience.
  • A victim/witness protection program in Virginia wanted a victim advocate with knowledge of the state and local criminal justice system, case management skills and some computer experience.

Standing Out in the Field

Become Credentialed

The most straightforward way for you to increase your understanding of the profession and your standing in the eyes of potential employers is to become credentialed. The National Advocate Credentialing Program (NACP) provides four levels of credentialing--provisional, basic, intermediate and advanced. To earn certification, you'll first need to acquire training covering fundamental topics, such as case management and the trauma of victimization or specific advocacy issues related to fields such as drunk driving, sexual assault, homicide and domestic violence. To earn NACP certification, you'll also need to show proof of a minimum amount of work experience.

Conduct Research and Develop Related Skills

Beyond becoming credentialed, another way to stand out lies in independently exploring characteristics of the criminal justice system and specific advocacy issues. Additionally, improving your speaking and communication skills along with working to build greater levels of patience and compassion can assist you greatly, since employers often look for applicants with these qualifications.

Alternative Career Paths

Law Enforcement Officer

If you want to help people, but aren't sure that a position as a victim advocate is right for you, you have other options. Closely tied to the career of an advocate are law enforcement careers, typically taking the form of police officers or detectives. While the job growth for such positions is poor, just a seven percent increase is expected from 2010-2020 according to the BLS, the level of pay is certainly greater. The BLS reported that the median salary for police and sheriff's patrol officers was about $54,000 and nearly $72,000 for detectives in May 2011. In addition, you'll be able to directly attempt to bring to justice those whose crimes create the very victims advocates strive to help.

Lawyer

If you think you might prefer helping victims through court proceedings, you might consider becoming a lawyer. Lawyers are closely connected with advocates and often work alongside them. As with law enforcement workers, you'll have the opportunity to possess a more involved role in seeking justice against those who cause harm to others. While this career can be substantially rewarding financially (a median annual income of about $113,000 as of May 2011, according to the BLS), you'll typically need around seven years of schooling to begin your career. You'll also need to pass a bar exam.

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Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Master: Criminal Justice
  • BSCJ: Crime Scene Investigation
  • AAS in Criminal Justice and Criminology

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Keiser University

  • B.A. - Political Science

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Colorado State University Global

  • BS - Applied Social Sciences
  • Undergraduate Specialization - Criminal Forensics

What is your highest level of education?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Criminal Justice Behavior Management

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Johns Hopkins University

  • Master of Liberal Arts

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Northcentral University

  • MS - Forensic Psychology (MSPSYFS)

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American InterContinental University

  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Corrections and Case Management
  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Generalist
  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Homeland Security and Crisis Management

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Grand Canyon University

  • M.S. in Psychology with an Emphasis in Forensic Psychology

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