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Victim Services Advocates

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

Technical Assistance - 888-235-3425 or 717-671-4767

Advocates get answers tailored to the unique characteristics of each victim/survivor and each county.

Attention! Federal Health Insurance Anytime Enrollment

Did you know? Survivors of domestic violence may 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!

Helping Victims Get the Best Advocacy and Services

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 work with victims/survivors. 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.

Domestic Violence Counselor/Advocate is "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." (PFA Act definition) Autonomy and self-direction by the victim are cornerstones of the domestic violence advocacy approach.

Victim Witness Advocates help victims navigate the criminal and juvenile justice systems and advocate for victims within these systems. Victim Witness advocates often work within the District Attorney’s office

  • Are responsible to the District Attorney and the Court
  • Can explain the criminal and juvenile justice system responses and remedies - especially when the justice system outcome may not be the same as that which the victim expects.

Victim Witness advocates can help victims get comprehensive services by referring to a community-based domestic violence program when they are 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.

Advocacy Approach Best Practices:

  • Victim-centered advocacy
  • Team approach
  • Refer and collaborate on providing services and guiding victims through the civil and criminal justice systems

Domestic Violence and Victim/Witness Advocates Help With:

Civil Remedies - Custody, Divorce, Protection From Abuse Order, Support
Local domestic violence programs help victims to understand the many possible civil remedies and to choose which may best resolve victim's unique situations. Victim witness advocates build relationships with neighboring domestic violence programs to provide the victim with a support system to help them navigate the civil legal system.

Confidentiality - Differing Levels
Pennsylvania law prohibits domestic violence advocates from revealing any communications between them and victims, even in court. There are differing levels of confidentiality based on training, statutory protections and professional licensing. Domestic violence and victim witness advocates are trained to understand the limits of confidentiality, the protection it provides victims, and when a victim's written consent is necessary. Victim witness advocates can be honest with victims about the limits of confidentiality.

Counseling - A Network of Support
Confidential counseling services are provided by trained counselors at every local domestic violence program at no cost. 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 for victim witness advocates to assist victims in building a network of support.

Housing - A Safety Issue
Victims of domestic violence and stalking have a very basic need for safety and security that will need to be met before moving forward in any criminal or civil legal proceeding. All domestic violence programs in Pennsylvania offer short-term housing options for 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 - 1-866-9PA-SAVIN
PA SAVIN (Statewide Automated Victim Information & Notification) 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. 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 - Enables Victim Self-sufficiency
Pennsylvania Victims Compensation Assistance Program (VCAP) 800-233-2339. All agencies and individual advocates should provide VCAP information. VCAP can remunerate victims for costs incurred as a result of a crime (reimbursement for services required as a result of injuries; medical services and prescriptions; counseling; loss of earnings; relocation expenses; and benefits regarding children). VCAP is under-used, especially for domestic violence survivors who never access the criminal or juvenile justice systems.

  • Filing a Protection From Abuse order meets the VCAP reporting requirement.
  • Early filing helps domestic violence victims access all of the potential benefits.
  • As their circumstances change over time, victims can reconsider VCAP benefits.

Office of Victim Services Training Opportunities

Systems Advocacy – Raises Up All Victims

  • Improves system-wide responses to crime victims through changes in policy and procedures
  • Builds a foundation of victim-centered practices in a county system
  • Creates a network of cooperative and supportive professionals

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

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