Victim advocates help survivors navigate through trauma
A typical day in the life of a victim advocate can be long, busy, rewarding, frustrating and emotionally draining. Within each community, an advocate or more than one advocate is there to help those who are suffering, victimized and rebuilding their lives. One of those advocates — Kimberly Schroeppel — has been helping victims and families going through tragedies in Utah County for five years as a victim advocate with Pleasant Grove’s police department.
Schroeppel, and others like her, spend their days reading incident reports, creating safety plans and meeting with survivors. They attend court hearings, work with investigators and patrol officers regarding sexual assaults, cases of domestic violence, stalking, harassment and protective orders.
Victim advocates give referrals for different therapies and classes that are individualized to the traumas endured and referrals to community groups that can help people with specific resources. They let victims know when their perpetrators are being released from jail and act as emotional support. Schroeppel works with part-time victim advocate Jennifer May.
“Between Jennifer and I, in one quarter, we gave 1,200 services to the citizens of Pleasant Grove,” Schroeppel said. “We’re pretty busy, unfortunately.”
Meeting with survivors is a step to helping them to heal and to understand each step of the legal process. “We explain victim rights to survivors,” Schroeppel said. “We sometimes are that person that frees up space so the officers and investigators can do their jobs while we listen and support the survivors and help them with the services that can help them. We never, ever tell survivors what they have to do, but we give them choices — help them to get their power back from what they have endured.”
The most rewarding part for Schroeppel is to see a survivor take back their power and start the healing process. “I love being a part of that process where they can get out of a dangerous situation and learn to grow and become strong,” she said. “A lot of times when there is abuse or sexual assault, the survivor has lost some power and they’ve had trauma in their brain and they need to learn to take back that trauma and really learn to heal and grow.”
One thing that Schroeppel does with survivors is to give them adult coloring books. “I have them pick one page and call it their power page. They can never color it unless they have done something that day or that hour to take back that power. As they see the color, they see that their power is coming back to their life,” she said. “It’s just really made a big impact. Everyone can use a power page whether it’s for mental health and abuse or trying to take back their life.”
Another part of the job she finds both challenging and rewarding is being called to unexpected deaths. “It’s an honor to be there with people when they are going through something so heartbreaking and unexpected,” Schroeppel said. “I have had really beautiful experiences with that and I have had really sad ones. Every time I leave, I feel like I have made some type of connection with that family.”
The victim advocates are on call 24 hours a day and, in Pleasant Grove, respond to unexpected deaths a few times per month, on average. “With the unexpected deaths, I will go out on scene, no matter what time it is, to help the family process and support and love them through what they are going through,” Schroeppel said.
In addition to the challenging circumstances that Schroeppel helps people with, she and other victim advocates experience discouragement when survivors who they have worked with become repeat victims. “It’s hard when I see someone who we’ve worked really hard to keep safe and teach them skills and then they go back and are assaulted again,” she said. “My heart really breaks. We see it with domestic abuse a lot.”
Victim advocates are constantly training in order to learn updated laws, best practices and ways to help those who have been hurt. This training helps them to do the wide variety of tasks their jobs encompass. Perhaps the most important of these tasks is to be an emotional support, which is something that Schroeppel is happy to be.