Nodaway County renewed its grant for the Prosecuting Attorney office of the 4th Judicial Circuit to have a victim advocate in its office. The grant was renewed in late October 2019.
In 2016, Robert Rice, local prosecuting attorney, collaborated with the prosecutors in Atchison, Worth and Gentry counties, as well as the Missouri Office of Prosecution Services and Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, to apply for a VOCA grant to hire a victim advocate in the court system.
The grant for the entire state of Missouri was for $6,520,203.18. The 4th Circuit’s victim advocate Karen Kepka is paid $34,299.87 yearly.
A victim advocate is someone who guides crime victims through a court case. They usually work with the prosecuting attorney on the case but have more of an emotional connection to the victim.
Rice said victim advocates are essential to the success of prosecuting criminal cases.
“That victim advocate provides necessary emotional support and services to those crime victims. A crime victim advocate is as instrumental to a crime victim as nurses are in the medical field,” Rice said.
Rice said prosecuting attorneys are there to interact and keep the victim informed, but the victim advocate does so much more.
“There has to be an emotional connection that enables the crime victim to know that what happened to them is not okay and that there are people that are fighting for that victim,” Rice said.
In 2019, Kepka worked with 315 crime victims, with 191 of them being from Nodaway County.
Before her work as a victim advocate, Kepka volunteered at the Children and Family Center, where she worked with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Meghann Kosman, court victim advocate for the Children and Family Center, said that Kepka still works alongside them during cases.
“We collaborate and work together, which includes setting up a meeting to talk directly with the prosecutor, we prep the client, we make sure the clients needs are met, we talk to family and keep them updated with court things,” Kosman said.
Kosman said the Children and Family Center is another support system for the client; it is there to be someone to turn to just like Kepka is.
“Court cases can be a really traumatic process, having to relive that violence. That’s where she and I work together on those things,” Kosman said.
Kepka said she would like for people to know they can come to her and she is someone they can turn to.
“I want people to know that they are not alone. We will get through this together,” Kepka said.
The grant will stand for the next two years and then will be up for renewal again.