The moment when a verdict is read, it feels as if everyone in the courtroom releases the breath they’ve been holding at once, said Brown County Victim Advocate Erin Kirchhofer.
That’s the feeling of justice being served, she said. And that is one of the many rewards Kirchhofer thinks of when reflecting on her first year on the job.
“It’s not just the things on the big scale like that,” she said of the courtroom feeling.
“It’s how everybody works together to make something huge happen for everybody.”
As victim advocate, Kirchhofer works with victims of a wide range of crimes. Some are victims of domestic violence. Some were sexually assaulted. Some have had their car broken into.
Even if the victim has just had their coat stolen, “that still means something to them, so they’re no less important to me than somebody that’s been the victim of a much more heinous act,” she said.
“I think making all people who have been affected by a crime feel like they’re important and they’re empowered and encouraged to participate in something, that is really important.”
Kirchhofer worked in student services at Indiana University for 13 years before taking the job at the Brown County Prosecutor’s Office in 2015.
“It’s such a hard job. It’s not one that you can’t not take seriously, ever. You’re always learning things and learning how to do things better,” Kirchhofer said, sitting outside the Department of Child Services.
DCS is one of the many social service entities she works with to help families who have been affected by domestic violence and other crimes.
Another is Turning Point, a resource for domestic violence victims based in Columbus.
On Nov. 9, Turning Point Domestic Violence Services named Kirchhofer its 2016 Mission Partner.
Turning Point’s mission is to work toward the prevention and elimination of domestic and dating violence. The Mission Partner award is given to a person or organization that, over time, has made an exceptional commitment to advance that mission.
As of September, Turning Point programs have served 53 Brown County families in 2016.
Those programs help victims with filing protective orders, conducting danger assessment, completing safety planning, obtaining legal advocacy, and receiving referrals to other community resources and receiving long-term case management, Turning Point reported in a press release.
Studies have shown that victims’ probability of returning to their abusers is significantly reduced if they receive long-term case management while they are transitioning out of their domestic violence situation, Turning Point said.
“Erin Kirchhofer recognizes the value of victims receiving these services,” said Rhea Murray, the Brown County community service director for Turning Point.
“She proactively links the victim to our services by taking the time to explain to clients what services Turning Point can provide.”
Five Brown County residents — three adults and two children — used the Turning Point emergency shelter in Columbus for 92 nights, Turning Point reported.
In addition, 1,360 students attended 55 youth-based presentations in Brown County schools about dating violence.
“I was hugely honored because I really don’t think of myself as doing anything remarkable,” Kirchhofer said about receiving the award.
“My goal is to always treat everybody the way I want them to treat me. With everybody I work with, I try to give to them exactly what I would want if it were me in their shoes.”
Prosecutor Ted Adams hired Kirchhofer in 2015 despite the fact that she had no previous court or criminal law experience. What he saw was “talent and adaptability,” he said.
“We took a chance, and within one year she has earned this award. I am very proud of taking that chance and very proud of Erin. She is an asset to our team and to our community.”
Kirchhofer gave credit back to her co-workers. “My co-workers are huge especially, because I came in without any previous legal experience. … There’s no reward for me without the work they’ve had to put in to making me the advocate that I am.”
Kirchhofer said she wasn’t aware of how many families she had helped until Turning Point presented her award.
“It made it so much more real for me to know that it’s not just that I coached them through a court hearing; they got connected to a service and may have had a life changing experience as a result,” she said.
53 Brown County families served by Turning Point Domestic Violence Services in 2016, through September
92 nights spent in the Turning Point emergency shelter, by five Brown County residents
1,360 Brown County students who heard presentations focused on preventing dating and relationship violence
Source: Turning Point