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Good listener: Victim advocate Carroll Westlake sees worst and best of humanity
Jun 5, 2012 - By Emily Etheredge, Staff Writer
Whether it is a complaint, a harsh word, a listening ear, a tearful breakdown, or a venting session, she hears them all.
Riverton Police Department victim/witness coordinator Carroll Westlake not only loves people, she listens to them.
"I have learned over the years that it is important to empathize rather than sympathize. I keep a distance, but I have a good listening ear. I like doing what I do because I like people, and I like helping them," Westlake said.
The purpose of Westlake's program is to assist victims of crime with services through the criminal justice system and to help victims cope. Westlake serves as an advocate and collaborates with the Riverton Police Department. The program provides direct services to promote the physical, emotional and financial healing of victims of crime after victimization. The mission of the RPD victim assistance program is to ensure victims of all crime receive fair and compassionate treatment throughout the criminal justice process.
Unofficially, Westlake's office is the place for people to come and vent, not only for the clients but for the people employed with the RPD.
"A lot hangs on confidentiality, and the police officers know it is a safe place to come. I cannot and will not speak to anyone else about what is said in here, so people feel safe to come and talk and they know it will not go anywhere else," Westlake said.
Through her comforting nature, genuine smile and or ability to connect with a level of care and concern, Westlake knows how to make individuals feel safe and understood.
Westlake moved to Riverton in 1957 with her family, graduated from Riverton High School, and lived on a farm near Pavillion until her husband passed away five years ago. She decided she didn't want to live in the country by herself, so she purchased a house in Riverton and has enjoyed living in town.
"I love Riverton. It is a wonderful place to live with people who genuinely care about other people. Everyone helps everyone, and it is just a wonderful place to live," Westlake said.
Westlake started working in 1997 as an AmeriCorps volunteer. Responding to an advertisement in the newspaper, Westlake was hired for the job and then told to start a program.
"They had written an Americorps grant for this type of victim assistance program, and they told me to get with it and figure it out. Before that we had a lot of domestic violence programs but no victim witness," Westlake said.
Westlake's job ranges on a day-to-day basis from a mound of paperwork or going through police reports to figuring out what she needs to respond to. There are also times throughout the day when a police officer may bring a victim into Westlake's office who has just been abused by her boyfriend or husband and may need services short of medical treatment.
"I may also be called to a house where a suicide has occurred, and I must help the family cope with the aftermath," Westlake said.
Although Westlake loves her job, she said the hardest part is seeing the evil people do to other people.
"When you see what human beings are capable of doing, it can be very difficult. but at the same time I get to see how wonderful, courageous, and kind people can be. So on the one hand you have truly evil acts, but on the other hand you have these wonderful human beings such as the RPD, who are helping other people," Westlake said.
Westlake feels as if suffering and bad things will always occur but it is the people who learn how to be victorious through their victimization that keep her coming to work each day.
"I get the opportunity to see the very worst of humankind and at the same time to see the most sublime every day, and that is a wonderful gift," Westlake said.
Westlake said a lot of people don't know about the work that she does due to not ever having been a crime victim.
"Unfortunately we aren't on someone's radar until they need us to be," Westlake said.
One of the most memorable moments of her job was when Riverton was celebrating Domestic Violence Awareness month and received used shoes and boots to line up outside of City Hall. Westlake was lining up the shoes along the sidewalk by herself with a sign displaying what she was doing.
Westlake recalls she had 50-60 people stop and ask what she was doing as well as share personal stories of how they had dealt with domestic violence or had friends who had been domestic violence victims.
"I got so many personal stories just from standing outside with a bunch of used shoes. It was one of the most interesting and neatest experiences, because people were so willing to share with me as I was holding old shoes. I said I wanted to write a story about it and title it 'The Tale of the Old Shoe.' but I didn't get any farther than that," Westlake said.
In her spare time, Westlake enjoys gardening and photography. She helps to photograph for the police department and the various events happening through the RPD.
"I wouldn't trade my job for the world. I think I would have to be in my grave to not be doing this job. I have decided I am kind of a people pleaser, and I am OK with that," Westlake said.