Advocating for Victims in the Criminal Justice System
While earning a criminal justice degree, you’ll examine many aspects of crime, punishment, and the people affected. The roles of victims and survivors within that system and how they're cared for are of special importance, especially to Dr. Shari Schwartz, chair of the Social and Criminal Justice Program at Ashford University. An expert on the issues victims often face, Dr. Schwartz is passionate about sharing her thoughts on how those who study criminal justice can advocate for victims and help them navigate the justice system.
By studying criminal justice, victimology, trauma, and what victims need, you can obtain a full understanding of how to best help victims through support, resources, and guidance.
In this blog, we examine what victim advocacy is, why it’s important, and five steps you can take toward servicing victims.
What Is Victim Advocacy?
According to the Office of Victims of Crime, victim advocates “perform a myriad of functions that may include speaking or acting on a victim’s behalf; serving as a liaison between the victim and the court system to minimize the physical, psychological, emotional, and financial effects of the crime on the victim; and working to effect social and system changes.”
Generally speaking, the primary purpose is to ensure victims have the proper support and resources they need, facilitated by liaisons, so that they can voice their concerns, receive compensation, and heal. Because of the sensitive nature of the circumstances, victim advocacy requires empathy, professionalism, and patience. Victims often have suffered considerably, explains Dr. Schwartz, and the challenges of pursuing prosecution can make the process even more difficult.
"The victims are traumatized, and now they have to go through a system that's even more traumatizing," she says.
Victims of crimes face a range of issues, including prolonged psychological trauma; fear, shame, and guilt; alienation from family and friends; loss of livelihood; damage to reputation and sense of self; and risk or fear of retaliation.
The way these issues are addressed varies between jurisdictions, so much so that it can be hard to know what rights victims actually have, Dr. Schwartz explains. Further, although many victim compensation funds exist, she says knowing about them and gaining access often prove difficult.
“There are aspects of these benefits that simply are inaccessible to the vast majority of victims," says Dr. Schwartz.
What Support Do Victims Need?
Victims of crimes need all the support they can get, and the criminal justice system assists victims in a number of ways, including:
- Providing information to victims about their rights and what to expect from the criminal justice process
- Providing access to crisis intervention services
- Providing emotional and moral support
- Guiding victims through the necessary steps to receive compensation, communicate with the courts, and seek safety
- Mediating between victims and their employers, landlords, and others individuals and service providers who may experience indirect financial effects of the crime
- Helping victims arrange for shelter, transportation, counseling, and any other essential assistance they need to survive and keep going
Who Helps Victims in the Criminal Justice System?
There are a variety of agencies that provide services to victims at a local, state, and federal level. Here are a few of the major groups that can aid in connecting victims to trauma services, compensation, and mediators:
- Local Police Departments
- State Police Departments
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- Emergency Response Agencies
- Sheriff’s Department
- Private Companies
How Can I Help Victims?
Helping victims requires a copacetic knowledge of the criminal justice system and the trauma services that are available. Here are some steps you can take toward servicing victims:
1. Obtain a Master of Science in Criminal Justice
A master's degree in criminal justice serves as the foundation of knowledge needed to understand the process for victims and help enact change. The Master of Science in Criminal Justice program at Ashford develops your knowledge and skills in the areas of criminal law, criminal justice, forensics and crime scene investigations, cybercrime and technology, management, constitutional processes, ethics, victimology, comparisons of criminal justice systems, and other current and related topics. Upon completion of the program, you will be able to, among other things, evaluate research regarding criminal justice and public policy and its effect on society, victims, and rehabilitation, a topic specifically explored in the course CRJ 615 Victimology.
2. Garner on-the-job training
There are many careers you can pursue with a criminal justice degree, and within these careers are opportunities to help victims. Some of these careers include:
- Local and state police
- Sheriff’s deputy
- Emergency response manager
- Emergency planning manager
3. Practice soft skills
Helping victims requires compassion, empathy, listening, patience, and a certain human touch. Additionally, knowing a second language is often the most powerful tool to help victims or victims' families who are not fluent in English.
4. Consider trauma training
Victims receive better aid when those working with victims are properly trained to deal with trauma. Dr. Schwartz suggests you look for opportunities that provide trauma training or consider pursuing a certification in trauma training in addition to earning a degree in criminal justice.
5. Have passion
Victim advocacy begins with a degree in criminal justice. Contact Ashford University today to learn how you can spark the change you wish to see in your community and beyond.
By Ashford University staff