Advocacy is a calling that many may see as challenging, while others embrace it to the fullest. When discussing advocacy the focus is on coming to the aid of someone who is hurting and in need of support regarding a certain situation. The first of many articles on this topic will focus on victim advocacy and the subsequent articles will share how different types of advocacy can offer help to the hurting.
A victim advocate is someone who helps another who has been victimized by crime regardless of age, race, gender or nationality. A victim advocate can also work with any type of crime victim although some may specialize in certain types of crime such as: domestic violence, sexual violence or human trafficking.
A first responder victim advocate normally works with emergency services such as law enforcement and is on call 24 hours a day/7 days a week. If a crime occurs in which it is deemed a victim could benefit from advocate services, they will be called out to respond to offer assistance. This is usually what is known as crisis intervention, offering immediate help to someone in crisis to help them maintain calm and determine their next steps. Many times it can be seen as helping the person “put one foot in front of the other” because they may be having difficulty determining how to handle the sudden trauma. The assistance can range from helping a victim of domestic violence find emergency shelter, to accompanying a victim of sexual abuse to the hospital for an exam, to referring the family of a victim of homicide to counseling for grief and loss.
Whatever the task, it is usually high-stress and fast-paced. Balance is essential in an occupation like this primarily because of the uncertain schedule and variety of victimizations the advocate may encounter. Keeping up with the case load, ensuring quality services are provided as well as keeping up-to-date on laws and skills necessary to do the job efficiently, can be quite challenging at times. It becomes even more challenging if there is a lack of support for the advocate either within their agency or office or from the community. Advocates are essential to the smooth flow and working relationship within the community in which they live and serve as well as within the agency or office in which they work.
Support for the advocate can impact workflow positively or negatively, as well as impact service delivery on scene or during follow up with victims. If there is respect, effective communication as well as recognition for the challenges the advocate has to face on a daily basis, advocacy becomes more of a team effort than the feeling of being on an island all alone. Acknowledgment of the skills and expertise of the professionals within the position of advocacy can allow those in the community, as well as within the various agencies to look to the advocate for assistance in simple and more complex cases. The relationship that advocates have with victims sometimes is like no other, especially if the advocate is with them from the onset of the crime and follows them through the criminal justice process.
The calling of victim advocacy is one to be taken seriously and valued at every level. There are many different types of advocates within various systems, yet all serve an equally important role. One level of advocacy depends on another just like a network, which can offer assistance and support to the victim as well as the advocate. The goal is to be the best advocate possible because someone’s immediate needs, whether physical or emotional may fall in the advocate’s hands and that’s a big responsibility. First responder victim advocacy may not be for everyone, but everyday someone advocates for another even if it’s just at the most abstract levels that no one recognizes. No one should feel that they are on an island all alone; everyone needs someone at least once in their lifetime. To be that one that can be depended on can be one of the most satisfying moments in life.