According to Minnesota statute 611, a victim is defined as “a natural person who incurs loss or harm as a result of a crime, including a good faith effort to prevent a crime.”

That state statute legally protects the rights of those who are a victim of a crime.

Victims have rights, and in the Redwood County attorney’s office, Denise Kerkhoff, crime victim services coordinator, focuses her time on ensuring those who fall under the state definition understand what those rights are.

According to Kerkhoff, the Redwood County attorney’s office has historically made serving victims a priority, but in the past two years it has focused more of its attention on ensuring their rights under the law are protected.

Kerkhoff said it was a little more than two years ago when then county attorney Steven Collins applied for a grant through the Minnesota Office of Justice Programs (OJP). The county grant request was approved, allowing for the office to employ an individual whose sole purpose is working with crime victims.

The first two-year grant was used to help establish the program and to hire Kerkhoff, and recently it was announced that the Office of Justice Programs crime victims unit approved the county’s request for another two year grant.

Kerkhoff started in the role in October 2018, and said due to a transition in the attorney’s office that led to the appointment and then election of Jenna Peterson as the county attorney the program started a little later than was initially anticipated under the grant.

Yet, Kerkhoff jumped into the role and has worked with a number of victims in the time that she has been on the job. Kerkhoff presented a report of that work to the Redwood County board recently. 

According to that report, the Redwood County crime victim services program worked with more than 400 victims from Oct. 1, 2018 through Sept. 30, 2019, with the majority of that number – 67 percent – in the 25-59 years of age range.

The program worked with 215 females and 188 males during that same time frame.

The crime areas represented in the victims served vary from burglary and identity theft to assault and abuse.

As part of her role, Kerkhoff will communicate with victims to help them as they work through the legal process, and will also sit in the courtroom during a case to keep victims informed of what is going on as things unfold.

The program has also collaborated with other resources in the community to ensure that those victims receive the help that they need, whether that is assistance with obtaining a restraining order or even finding food.

Kerkhoff said another element she hopes will grow is in the area of education, as she works with organizations and the community as a whole as it relates to victim issues and prevention.

Kerkhoff estimated she has made in the area of 1,000 contacts with victims since she took on this new role, which demonstrates the need for the program.

Kerkhoff said victims do not have to talk with her. However, she said having knowledge can take away fear.

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