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A victim's advocate
by Sarah Cooper
Apr 21, 2010 | 1991 views | 1 1 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
RENO –– Jennifer Harp spends her days with the abused, the assaulted and the stalked.

The Sparks victim advocate helped more than 280 victims in 2009 alone with everything from temporary protection orders to changing the locks on their homes to keep out an abusive spouse.

But what Harp does best is listen.

“The biggest thing that people can do is just to be there,” Harp said. “Be present.”

Harp is one of many who were honored and remembered Wednesday outside the Mills Lane Justice Center in Reno for an annual candlelight vigil commemorating National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.

Candles were lit in honor of and, in some cases, in memory of, those who have been victims of crime.

“I feel profound joy for how far we have come but I also feel profound concern for how far we have to go,” said Sue Meuschke, executive director of the Nevada Network Against Domestic Violence.

At the ceremony, Harp received the Outstanding Victim Advocate award to the applause of the more than 100-strong crowd.

Many of those whom Harp, and other area victim advocates, had helped were in that crowd.

Due to privacy concerns, Harp declined to publish, or even allude to, any details of the cases she has worked on. However, each person in Sparks who has been a victim of domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking has been contacted by Harp.

“One of the best hires we had was Jennifer Harp,” acting Sparks Police Chief Steve Keefer said at the vigil. “She was a god-send. … When the police arrive at an incident it is emotional, it is a time of crisis. They (the officers) need to balance the needs and make sure that they provide fairness, dignity and respect to all. No piece of that puzzle fits better than a victims advocate.”

When a Sparks resident is involved in a violent incident, sometimes Harp is called to the scene. Other times, she receives the police reports the following day and gives the victim a call.

“Sometimes I call because maybe they don’t feel comfortable,” Harp said.

In 2009, the victim advocate helped 305 people who did not solicit her help.

A victim advocate wears many hats, according to Detective Rocky Triplett, one of Harp’s supervisors.

“They create safety plans, evaluate the level of danger a person might be in, stays in contact with that person (after the assault or abuse) and helps them through the court process,” Triplett said. “I mean, you not only have to face a person who has victimized you and you care about but you have to do it in an unfamiliar court setting. It can be very intimidating.”

The victim advocate also can arrange for money for food, help changing locks or temporary housing if the person is in so much danger they must leave the state.

“She really just assists them with the entire process from beginning to end,” Triplett said.

Harp’s salary is currently funded by a grant, not through the city’s general fund. The Violence Against Women Act grant not only pays Harp’s salary, but also provides food or lodging for victims of violent crime. Harp has been with the city of Sparks Police Department’s detective division since May 2008 when the grant was approved.

“We want to be able to bring her on but with budget constraints being the way they are, we might just have to find another grant,” Triplett said. “We will find another grant because of the benefits she brings to the city.”

He added that really helping victims requires a different skill set than officers are trained to have.

“Police, their job is to hunt the bad guy,” Triplett said. “But Jen is very conscientious, caring, concerned and can have very open conversations with victims.

“She develops a level of trust with them,” he added. “Especially with domestic violence victims, you don’t trust the police because the bad guy in this case is also a loved one. What she does is help those people with the process. She does an outstanding job for us.”

Those who have been the victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking can call Harp directly at 353-2217.
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April 23, 2010
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