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.
Roles and Training
Advocates' responsibilities vary depending on their job description and where they work Typically, the role of an advocate may include:
Advocates work in many different locations. Some serve in the criminal justice system (in police stations, prosecutor's offices, courts, probation or parole departments, or prisons). They may also be part of private nonprofit organizations such as sexual assault crisis centers or domestic violence programs. Some advocates are paid staff, and others are volunteers. Many advocates have academic degrees that prepare them to work with victims. They may have studied social work, criminal justice, education, or psychology. Advocates often receive significant additional training on the specific knowledge and skills they need on the job.
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 an 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 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.
Victim Impact Statements
What Is It?
Victim impact statements are written or oral information from crime victims, in their own words, about how a crime has affected them. All 50 states allow victim impact statements at some phase of the sentencing process. Most states permit them at parole hearings, and victim impact information is generally included in the pre-sentencing report presented to the judge.
If You Are a Victim
How You May Feel: You may have mixed feelings about making a victim impact statement. You may welcome the opportunity to tell the judge or parole hearing officer how the crime affected your life. Yet you may be anxious because you don't know how to prepare an impact statement or you don't want to bring back bad memories by describing how the crime has hurt you.
What You Can Do: Victims are often relieved to know that victim advocates in their communities can help them make decisions about victim impact statements. Victim advocates in your local district attorney's office or victim service agency can offer you information about your state's policies and procedures on victim impact statements. They can help you weigh the benefits of submitting a statement, and they can help you prepare and submit your victim impact statement. (To learn more about your state's approach to victim impact statements and the "right to be heard," visit www.victimlaw.org.
Options for Victims
Deciding What to do After a Crime
If you are a victim of crime, you may have to cope with challenges you never expected to face. You may have been wounded or lost property you can't afford to replace. You may be overwhelmed by fear or anger. And you may not know what to do next or where to turn for help. Victim advocates can help you figure out what steps to take and what choices you may need to make. Victim advocates include paid and unpaid service providers working in a variety of settings to respond to crime victims' mental, physical, financial, social, emotional, and spiritual needs. Advocates can offer advice on how to stay safe and give you information on medical, mental health, and victim services in your community. Below are some of the options you may want to explore, either on your own or with the help of a victim advocate.
Seeking Justice Through the Courts
Criminal Justice System: If you decide to report the crime, your report to the police creates an official record of the crime and may lead to an investigation. If investigating officers find clear evidence that points to a specific suspect, they may arrest the suspect or issue a citation for him or her to appear in court at a specific time. A prosecutor examines the evidence and decides whether to file charges, go to trial, or enter into a plea agreement with the defendant. The prosecutor makes the decisions about how to proceed, although you may request information about the progress of the case. If the case goes to court, you may be called as a witness. Once a verdict or plea agreement has been reached, the judge will set a date for a sentencing hearing, where you can submit or present a victim impact statement that describes how the crime affected you. The judge may consider your statement in deciding a sentence. Sentences vary widely, depending on the crime and the laws of the jurisdiction. Typical sentences include probation, time in jail or prison, or time already served. Sometimes offenders are ordered to seek counseling or participate in intervention programs for battering, substance abuse, or other crime-related behavior problems. (For more details, see "The Criminal Justice System" Get Help Bulletin.)
Civil Justice System: Sometimes you can sue the perpetrator and other people ("third parties") who bear some responsibility for the crime. The goal of a civil suit is to hold defendants "liable" (accountable) for committing the crime or allowing it to happen. You will need to hire an attorney. (Many attorneys will take a civil case on a "contingency" basis: they agree to be paid a percentage of any financial awards that may be granted.) Your attorney will decide if there is enough proof to take the case to court. If you win your case, the court will order the defendant to pay you a specific amount of money. Victims often use civil justice awards to pay for services they need, such as medical care, counseling, or repairing or replacing property.
Protective Order: If you are a victim of domestic violence or stalking, you may want to seek a protective order from the court. A protective order requires the abuser to stay away from you, your home, your work or other places you regularly go. You can file for a protective order on your own, but you may want to seek help from a victim advocate (see below) who can help you find out if you are eligible, fill out the paperwork, and guide you through the process. (In some states only people in certain types of relationships-such as marriage, domestic partnerships, or shared parenthood-can get protective orders.) In most states, protective orders are issued in civil court, but prosecutors can request them as part of a criminal process (such as investigation, charges, or trial).
Resources to Help You
Crime Victim Compensation
Crime victim compensation is a government program to reimburse victims of violent crimes- such as assault, homicide, rape, and, in some states, burglary - as well as their families for many of their out-of-pocket expenses. Every state has a crime victim compensation program. Crime victim compensation is a government program to reimburse victims of violent crimes- such as assault, homicide, rape, and, in some states, burglary - as well as their families for many of their out-of-pocket expenses. Every state has a crime victim compensation program.
For information about your state program, visit the National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards.
Crime victim compensation programs will generally pay for:
medical and dental expenses,
funeral or burial expenses, and
lost wages or support.
Some states also cover such costs as financial counseling, crime scene cleanup, travel for medical treatment or court proceedings, or relocation expenses for victims who must move for their physical safety. Crime victim compensation programs have a maximum that will be paid for each claim, which varies from state to state and can range from $10,000 to $100,000. They also have limits on certain types of expenses, for example, limits on the amounts that can be paid for funeral or burial expenses, for counseling, or for medical expenses. Because it may take several weeks or months to process a claim for crime victim compensation, many states offer emergency awards, which are compensation payments of $500 to $1,000 to cover emergency expenses such as medications, food or shelter.
Victims: The direct victim of a violent crime is generally eligible for compensation. Some states only compensate victims who were physically injured in the course of the crime, while others also compensate victims of violent crime who were traumatized but not physically injured by the crime.
Family members: Families of homicide victims can get compensation to pay the medical bills and funeral or burial expenses, and to pay for counseling and loss of support. Some states will compensate family members in certain other types of cases, for example, paying for counseling for family members in cases of sexual assault, child abuse, or domestic violence. Most state compensation programs require that victims:
report the crime promptly to the police (the reporting time varies between states, and nearly all states have good exceptions for child victims, incapacitated victims, and other special circumstances);
cooperate with the police and prosecutors in the investigation and prosecution of the offense (the state may have a good exception for this requirement, too);
submit an application for compensation within a certain time (although the state make an exception for good ;
not have been committing a crime at the time (for example, someone cannot get compensation for being shot while drug dealing), or not have been involved in other serious misconduct that caused or contributed to the injury or death; and
have costs from the crime that are not covered by insurance or some other program, such as Workers' Compensation or Medicaid.
Compensation can be paid even when no one is arrested or convicted for the crime.
To apply for crime victim compensation, victims or families must file a claim form in the state where the crime occurred. The compensation program will then examine police records, receipts, and other information before deciding whether to pay a claim. For information about your state program, visit the National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards.
Copyright 2008 by the National Center for Victims of Crime. This information may be freely distributed, provided that it is distributed free of charge, reprinted in its entirety, and includes this copyright notice.