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Victim Services Advocates

DID YOU KNOW? Survivors of Domestic Violence may enroll at federal health insurance at any time!

A major positive change in policy was implemented in June 2015 that has a dramatic impact on survivors of domestic violence and their ability to buy health insurance for themselves and their families. Survivors of domestic violence may now apply for health insurance through healthcare.gov at ANY TIME. They do not need to wait for Open Enrollment. They qualify for a Special Enrollment Period because they are survivors of domestic violence.

Learn more about this Special Enrollment Period for survivors of domestic violence on HealthCaresAboutIPV.org!


2015TaxWebinarHoriz_img TAX ISSUES FOR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SURVIVORS: What Advocates Need To Know

View webinar 2015 QuickTime .mov file/ 245 MB
View presentation slides only 2015 pdf/394 KB

PCADV and its member programs are here to help victim services advocates assist victims of domestic violence and their families. Call us at 800-932-4632.

Victim services professionals may contact our Legal Department at 888-235-3425 for information about family law and domestic violence law. (This is not a helpline for victims.)

PCADV offers training and technical assistance to Pennsylvania victim services professionals, law enforcement, prosecutors and on the PFA Act, PFA processes and procedures, firearms, domestic violence research, working with domestic violence victims, and other domestic violence-related issues.

Technical Assistance

Technical Assistance (TA) provided to advocates is specialized and tailored to the unique characteristics of each victim/survivor and each county.

  • Systems-Based Victim Advocates: For resources, training or assistance, contact PCADV's Legal Department at 1-888-235-3425 or 717-671-4767.
  • STOP (Services. Training. Officers. Prosecutors.) Teams: contact PCADV's Legal Department at 1-888-235-3425 or 717-671-4767. STOP Funding encourages the development and improvement of effective law enforcement and prosecution strategies to address violent crimes against women and the development and improvement of advocacy and services in cases involving violent crimes against women.

Helping Victims

Victims get better advocacy and access to services when systems-based professionals routinely collaborate with other community programs and refer victims based on specific program strengths. Generally there are two types of advocates who traditionally work with victims/survivors:

  • Community-Based Advocates (also known as Domestic Violence Program Advocates)
  • Systems-Based Victim Advocates (also known as Victim/Witness Advocates)

Each has distinct roles and responsibilities. Understanding these distinctions is essential when assisting victims to navigate the justice system as well as to access comprehensive community services.


The Pennsylvania PFA Act Annotated contains the full text of the Act, 23 Pa.C.S. sections 6101 - 6123, and appellate case law annotations within the applicable sections. The PFA Annotated also describes cases relevant to the PFA Act's relationship with other proceedings: custody, divorce, and dependency. Cases are also indexed by relevant section.

The Pennsylvania Protection From Abuse (PFA) Act PCADV, 2010, contains the full text of the Act, 23 Pa.C.S. sections 6101 - 6123.

Advocacy Approach

Victim-centered advocacy is a team approach recognizing differing roles and responsibilities in a collaborative process. Advocates from domestic violence and victim-witness programs can talk through the needs of a victim (with the victim's consent), collaborate on providing services, and help victims work through the civil and criminal justice systems.

"Domestic Violence Counselor/Advocate" is defined in the Protection From Abuse Act as "an individual associated with a community-based domestic violence program, the primary purpose of which is the rendering of counseling or assistance to victims/survivors of domestic violence."

Autonomy and self-direction by the victim are cornerstones of the domestic violence advocacy approach. Some domestic violence programs also have staff attorneys to offer PFA filing and other comprehensive civil legal services such as custody, divorce and support to victims.

"Victim Witness Advocates" (V/W Advocates) help victims navigate the criminal and juvenile justice systems and advocate for victims within these systems. The V/W advocate's role includes notification of and accompaniment to court-related proceedings, case status updates, and opportunities to comment on case outcomes, as well as victims' rights and offender movement notifications. V/W advocates also have training and tools like victims' compensation and restitution at their fingertips to help victims move toward financial stability and autonomy.

V/W advocates who work within the Office of the District Attorney are bound by their responsibilities to the District Attorney and the Court - which means the justice system outcome may not be the same as that which the victim anticipates. In such cases, the ability of V/W advocates to provide explanations about the criminal and juvenile justice system responses and remedies is critical.

Sometimes, the tools of the justice system may not satisfy the victim and the support of a domestic violence advocate may move victims toward an alternate resolution that better meets their needs. V/W advocates can help victims get comprehensive services by referring to a community-based domestic violence program when a V/W agency is not able to advocate in a way the victim wishes. Making appropriate referrals to the local domestic violence program for confidential counseling, housing, assessment and safety planning helps to build a network of support for domestic violence victims.

Systems advocacy is an incredibly powerful tool that V/W advocates offer to victims. Systems advocacy within the criminal justice system can improve system-wide responses to crime victims through changes in policy and procedures. When there is a foundation of victim-centered practices in a county system and a network of cooperative professionals, positive systems change can occur. It is important that advocates take advantage of every opportunity to build and sustain relationships between justice system advocates, community-based service providers, the business community and local government.

Domestic Violence and Victim/Witness Advocates Help With:

Civil Remedies (Custody, Divorce, Protection From Abuse Order, Support)
There are many civil remedies available to victims of domestic violence and stalking. Local Domestic Violence Programs can provide assistance, information and advocacy about the remedies that best resolve victims' situations. V/W advocates build relationships with neighboring DV Programs to provide the victim with a support system to help them navigate the civil legal system.

There are differing levels of confidentiality based on training, statutory protections and professional licensing. Domestic Violence and V/W advocates are trained to understand the limits of confidentiality, the protection it provides victims, and when a victim's written consent is necessary. V/W advocates can be honest with victims about the limits of confidentiality.

Confidential counseling services are provided by trained counselors at every local domestic violence program at no cost. As systems-based victim services professionals, V/W advocates have the responsibility to offer support to victims navigating the criminal and juvenile justice systems. Victims of domestic violence and stalking often benefit from short-term counseling and sometimes longer-term counseling from the domestic violence program. Collaborating with the domestic violence program can be an opportunity to assist victims in building a network of support.

Victims of domestic violence and stalking may not feel safe in their homes. This is a very basic need for safety and security that will need to be met before moving forward in any criminal or civil legal proceeding. Domestic violence advocates offer comprehensive, confidential safety planning. All domestic violence programs in Pennsylvania offer short-term housing options (either within county or via an agreement with a neighboring county) to victims of domestic violence and stalking (including men) and their children. Some have longer-terms housing options as well.
The Address Confidentiality Program can also provide options for victims to keep abusers from finding them and their families.

Notification of Offender Status
PA SAVIN (Statewide Automated Victim Information & Notification)
1-866-9PA-SAVIN is a free, confidential and automated service that helps victims, law enforcement, advocates and community members keep up to date on the status of an offender housed in a county jail, state prison or under state parole supervision within the Commonwealth. Registration for automated notifications should only be one part of a comprehensive safety plan for victims of crime.

Safety Planning
Referral is key. Domestic violence and stalking victims need individualized safety plans that meet their needs, which can change over time. At the local domestic violence program, victims work with specially trained professional advocates who can help meet their safety and counseling needs. Domestic violence advocates also have access to comprehensive resources for domestic violence and stalking victims.

Victims Compensation
Pennsylvania Victims Compensation Assistance Program (VCAP) 800-233-2339. VCAP can remunerate victims for costs incurred as a result of a crime. Financial awards from compensation programs can reimburse victims for out-of-pocket losses, services required as a result of injuries, counseling fees, as well as a variety of other eligible expenses.

Victims of domestic violence file fewer VCAP claims and receive the smallest dollar amount of award than any other eligible group of crime victims. This is a highly under-used tool for domestic violence survivors, especially those who never access the criminal or juvenile justice systems, that can help them financial compensation and independence from their perpetrators. The filing of a Protection From Abuse order meets the VCAP reporting requirement, a change that opened the door for many more victims/survivors of domestic violence to apply for VCAP. All agencies and individual advocates should provide VCAP information. Different advocates may frame distinct ways in which VCAP can be helpful so it's appropriate for more than one advocate to present it as an option.

Benefits the VCAP program can provide: medical services and prescriptions; counseling; loss of earnings; relocation expenses; and benefits regarding children. Domestic violence victims must know about this resource early (and ongoing) to be able to access all of the potential benefits. Victims also should have the opportunity to consider VCAP benefits as their circumstances may change as well.

Through familiarity with VCAP - the process, rules, and language - V/W advocates can make the VCAP program more readily accessible to victims. Advocates can attend the VCAP Basics Clinic as well as the Domestic Violence Clinic. Office of Victim Services Training Opportunities

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