For victims of domestic violence and abuse, having an advocate on their side, one who understands cycles of violence, advocacy techniques, and how the justice system handles abuse, eases the fear and anxiety (see Anxiety) that often accompanies a complex, confusing, and traumatic process.
Depending on the specialty, domestic violence advocates can be called child advocates, court advocates, and victims' advocates. But regardless of their titles, all advocates help victims navigate through social service agencies, police procedures, court cases, and offer career guidance, and advice on everything from child welfare services to obtaining food stamps and other government assistance.
The horrors of physical, emotional, psychological or sexual abuse, or as in many cases, a combination of abuses, leaves victims disempowered and feeling helpless. An advocate starts the victim on the road to recovery by offering unconditional acceptance, and directing them to community resources, counselors, and others in the mental health field who can help them change and improve their lives.
Advocates work in a variety of settings, in local police stations, courts, women's shelters, health care and community organizations, state and federal government entities, and national associations. Sometimes they become self-employed consultants, providing counseling and other services to abuse victims.
Job responsibilities vary, but those who work for nonprofits such as women's shelters or victim abuse centers are often asked to juggle several responsibilities. They help traumatized and frightened victims develop safety plans, or direct victims to shelters, and help victims find jobs or apply for student loans in order to return to school.
Some nonprofits and community organizations have advocates working on fundraising events, writing grants, or providing basic clerical functions. These groups also employ advocates to conduct risk assessments with victims, receive daily referrals from law enforcement, and educate victims about the dynamics of domestic violence and abuse.
Community agencies employ advocates to organize and run programs, such as Sexual Assault Response Teams (SART) that respond 24-hours a day. Advocates that work for these agencies are often called into emergency rooms, police stations, and universities.
Some advocates deliver educational services to schools, PTAs, health care professionals, and policymakers. They give presentations and training sessions on identifying abuse victims, intervention methods, and offer lists of available resources and agencies.
They also testify before state legislatures and the U.S. Congress, advocating for laws that better protect victims and their children, and for programs to assist victims who are trying to regain a sense of individuality and purpose. This can also involve actually writing legislation or writing for magazines and websites on domestic violence issues.
Because many victims are emotionally and physically taxed, they need guidance on how to file legal papers, how to appear in court, and how to talk and answer questions by judges and attorneys. Court dates mean that victims will have to face perpetrators, so advocates accompany victims to court, and also counsel them on handling this stressful encounter.
Often a bachelor's or master's degree is required to work as an advocate along with specialized training. States have domestic violence certification programs that prepare individuals for work as domestic violence advocates.
Many organizations also need volunteers, which is great way to get experience working in the field, and often leads to permanent employment.
Advocates with a background in psychology are highly valued, and in order to advance to more executive level positions within organizations, an advanced degree is required. If you are interested in impacting lives, and providing a supportive voice for victims of domestic abuse and violence, request information from psychology schools to acquire the educational qualifications needed to become a victim advocate.