By Rachel Kytonen
Isanti County Victim Services Coordinator Brenda Skogman was the 2011 recipient of the Distinguished Service Award at the Minnesota Office of Justice Conference at Craguns Resort on May 27.
“I was totally shocked,” Skogman said last week. “I was told someone else had won the award. Even after they started reading the nomination letter, it still took me a while to realize it was me they were talking about. After the nomination letter was read I had to go on stage and make a speech. I was pretty much crying. It was probably the first time in my life I’ve ever been speechless.”
Skogman, who began her role as victim services coordinator in late 2001, is also the site coordinator for Isanti County’s Sexual Assault Interagency Council (SAIC).
Isanti County Attorney Jeff Edblad began the victims services program in 1996, and said Skogman has done a wonderful job in her position.
“Brenda’s role is indispensable,” Edblad said. “The bottom line is as prosecutors we couldn’t do our job effectively without the work that Brenda does. She serves as a liaison between our office and the victims, which makes it easier for us to focus on the facts and evidence of the case. There is always a fear that the criminal justice system can revictimize victims because it can be a scary and intimidating place, and it’s a very specialized system. Someone with Brenda’s knowledge and skill set, and how well she deals with people, makes it less likely the victims will feel revictimized. Brenda makes sure we do everything we can for the victim.”
Skogman’s role as victims services coordinator is to support the victim.
“I’m their support person,” Skogman said. “My position is to let them know what the prosecutor wants, and I’m there support person as the go-between between the prosecutor, the courts and the victim. I’m also there support person at the hospital if they need someone to hold their hand, get them warm blankets, or if they need any food or water.”
Isanti County Investigator Lisa Lovering and volunteer advocate Sue Stark nominated Skogman for the award.
“To say that Brenda makes our cases victim centered is almost an understatement,” wrote the nominators. “Brenda makes sure that we never forget the victims. The victim is first and foremost in our cases.”
Skogman recalled one case where the victim was living in a home where the roof was being reshingled. The perpetrator had taken all the protective materials off the roof, and the victim said she needed to walk her pot-bellied pig, but also get on the roof and get it sealed.
“I told her to go get her stuff ready while I walked her pot-bellied pig,” Skogman said. “After I walked the pig, and she got her stuff ready, we went up on the roof and started covering the open spaces with tarps.”
Skogman finds her position very gratifying.
“It’s very rewarding for me when I see the victim move on, and the perpetrator is held accountable,” Skogman said. “Whether the victim ends up staying with the perpetrator or not, we like to see the perpetrator held responsible for their actions.”
Skogman enjoys her job, even though she is on call 24/7 between herself and her assistant.
“I love my job, and love working with the victims,” Skogman said. “It’s an unbelievable feeling when you have a 3-year-old come up to you and give you a hug because they know you are a safe person. I have a dad who calls me every couple of months to say just how much he appreciated what we did for his family. A family really never forgets you, and that’s what keeps me going. Especially in cases with kids, when you see them smile and laughing for the first time in a long time, that’s pretty amazing.”
Usually Skogman or her assistant is in the courtroom with victims.
“One of us is usually in the courtroom while the other one is handling paperwork and office duties,” Skogman explained. “Once in a while we also watch the victims’ children for them while they attend the court proceedings.”
Skogman’s presence in the courtroom is important.
“Brenda provides a stable presence in an unstable situation,” Edblad said. “She’s a wealth of knowledge, and has a very comforting and soothing presence. The victims know that Brenda is someone who will be honest with them, and provide them with information they need to know and need to hear as the case is progressing.”
Edblad said Skogman is also becoming known as an expert state-wide in regard to her work with victims of sexual assault.
“It’s been neat to watch Brenda serve in this position for nearly 10 years, and it has been rewarding to see how she’s developed into a such a strong and responsible victim services advocate. She has not only been noted for her work locally, but also at a state-wide level.”
Skogman also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of the Minnesota Alliance on Crime, the Minnesota Crime Victim’s Conference Planning Committee, the Isanti County Family Support team, the Isanti County Community Corrections Advisory Board and the Isanti County Meth Coalition.
Persistence and patience are also traits Brenda possesses to do her job efficiently.
“I probably dealt with one particular family six or seven times,” Skogman said. “The last time between myself and child protection services we finally convinced the victim she wasn’t responsible for what was happening. We had sent her a lot of letters and never got any response. We finally got her in here, and got her on board. We were able to get her some food and clothing through our emergency funds to help her and the family.”
Skogman said even after a case is closed, she still maintains contact with the victims and their families, and does everything she can for them.
“I’m always available to them,” Skogman said. “If I don’t have the answers they need, I provide them with the resources they need to get the answers they’re looking for.”
Edblad said the education Skogman provides is invaluable.
“Brenda is an educational resource to the victim, and informing them about how the criminal justice system works,” Edblad said. “Sometimes, due to the misconceptions on television law shows, the victim may not understand how the criminal justice system works. The decision to proceed in a case is based on the prosecutor, and cases can take time to work their way through the pipeline. The education component is a big part of what Brenda does and spends time speaking to different groups throughout the community.”
Serving as a liaison between the victim, law enforcement and county attorney’s office is a big part of Skogman’s job.
“Brenda has a tremendous amount of respect from the law enforcement and prosecution office,” Edblad said. “She received the Isanti County Law Enforcement Association Employee of the Year Award in 2005, and with respect to every prosecutor, we hold her in an incredible high regard, and we would expect nothing else from a second generation family member serving in public service.”