April 29, 2018 — When sexual assault victims come to Norma Olivas, she sees people in need, not just evidence to gather.

The registered nurse has conducted sexual assault forensic exams since 2011 and is on call 365 days a year, along fulfilling her duties with Nurse Midwife Services and same-day surgery at Montrose Memorial Hospital.

On April 25, Olivas’ dedication earned her the honor of Victim Advocate of the Year for the 7th Judicial District.

“I think it’s (advocacy) important because they’ve been victimized and are feeling insecure and scared,” Olivas said after accepting a plaque from District Attorney Dan Hotsenpiller and a bouquet of roses from her supervisor at Nurse Midwife Services.

“I will just go in and try to put them at ease, let them know (their rights)… and just explain the process so they know what is coming up next. That seems to put them at ease, just knowing what we are doing and knowing that at any time, they can stop.”

Olivas is an advocate for victims in her medical capacity. She was honored during a week set aside to celebrate victim advocates from law enforcement agencies, district attorneys offices and community-based services such as Hilltop Community Resources.

Such work is critical, Hotsenpiller told a roomful of law enforcement officials, victim advocates, and others in similar fields.

The court system is focused heavily on defendants’ rights, as are the press and the Legislature, he said.

“For me, it’s always a struggle, because I don’t hear about victims in these debates and discussions as often as I hear about defendants,” Hotstenpiller said.

“We actually have a statute in the state of Colorado that actually says that we are charged, as are the courts, as is law enforcement, with as vigorously defending the rights of victims as we are of defendants.

“We also know and understand that in the system, that doesn’t happen. But there is a huge group of people in our communities that every day goes to work on behalf of victims.”

These include victim advocates, Hotsenpiller said, just before calling Olivas to the front of the room for this year’s honor.

Olivas not only underwent training for the sexual assault forensic exam program, which began here in 2011 but took additional training so she could perform forensic photography.  Olivas has been part of the program since its inception.

“She’s gone above and beyond. She has attended every sex offense victim that has presented in the emergency room in these last many years — unbelievable,” Hotsenpiller said.

“She is the first person victims interact with and what a crucial role that is. She has really played an integral role in doing that job.”

The DA read comments from other professionals, including his deputy prosecutor in charge of sex assault cases, who said Olivas truly understands her job. Her work supervisor said Olivas is loved by patients and co-workers, and the coordinator of a sexual assault response team hailed her “compassion, empathy and professionalism” in dealing with survivors.

Olivas further helps other victim advocates and the DA’s Office understand her role.

“Norma has the difficult challenge of explaining to victims what their rights are… Lawyers don’t even understand all that work,” Hotsenpiller said.

“She takes the time and has the patience to explain to victims in circumstances that they don’t want to be involved in what their rights are.”

Serving victims takes an entire team, Olivas said. She said she is relieved to be able to tell victims they will have an advocate through the court process and/or in community-based services.

“I think the important thing is the victims know that they have a person they can go to and answer all their questions and let them know what the next step is, as far as the process goes,” said Olivas. “That takes a lot of stress off them.”

She added the award was a nice surprise. “A lot of people will say it takes a team to do this, so I’m real honored to be the one to get an award for it,” Olivas said.

Hilltop Community Resources offers support services and counseling to sexual assault victims and others. Hilltop’s advocates complement the work of law enforcement victim advocates who come to scenes and DA victim advocates who help victims through the court process.

All work to help victims with what they need to move forward, Hilltop’s director Kaye Hotsenpiller said.

“I think that’s kind of our common goal, how we can move these victims forward and
not have to wait for a court outcome to feel healed and at peace. I think our victim
advocates do a lot to support and move these individuals forward,” she said.

“This is tough work,” said her husband, the DA. “It’s tough work for all of us. We
need each other and we need to support each other. … We have shared goals, shared beliefs,
shared caring.”

Katharhynn Heidelberg is an award-winning journalist and the senior writer for the Montrose Daily Press. Follow her on Twitter @kathMDP.

Montrose Daily Press | April 29, 2018
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