Shawnee Mission Faces: Kim Donovan, advocate for victims of violent crimes and professional counselor

As the victim specialist for the criminal investigations division of the Overland Park Police Department, Kim Donovan is here to listen.

With her lifelong career in counseling and education, she knows what an advocate needs to do in moments of crisis for victims and survivors of violent crimes. Every day since she started in April 2020, she uses her experience from being a licensed professional counselor to advocate for victims and put them first as they navigate the criminal justice system.

While not providing formal counseling services, she’s here to connect victims and survivors with the resources and services they need to find healing and justice. 

A native of Kansas City, Missouri, se earned two degrees in justice systems and Spanish as well as a master’s degree in community counseling (similar to mental health counseling) at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, and later earned her doctorate degree in counselor education at Idaho State University in Pocatello, Idaho.

She also taught psychology and counseling courses as a professor at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant, Oklahoma and at Northern Vermont University. Outside of work, she enjoys traveling with family and cooking with and for her family. Her favorite place to visit is anywhere she hasn’t visited yet.

She lives with her family in the Kansas City metro area.

As I was looking for new positions to be able to find a job that I could use my skills but also something I could see myself doing for a long time and helping others — I wanted to stay in the helping professions — as soon as I saw the ad posted, I knew that it was the perfect fit for me.

The way that it was written, what they were looking for: someone to help really focus on victims from a trauma-informed perspective, I thought that I could really be beneficial and it would be something that I would enjoy doing as well.

It was a little unique because I was starting in the middle of the pandemic, and most of the time, advocacy services are provided in person. So that was challenging, since I’m used to always working with people face to face, one on one, together in a room and not through a telephone or through Zoom or something like that.

I think, in some ways, it was beneficial for some victims because they could be more anonymous. A lot of times, there’s so much shame and self-blame associated with trauma and what’s happened.

A lot of times right after what’s happened and in the immediate aftermath with a lot of victims when I reach out to them — typically it’s the next day or two, after they’ve probably gone through one of the most difficult times in their lives, where they’ve reached out for help — to be able to connect with them right away is very important, to make sure they have somebody there to look out for their needs, to guide them so they can make the best choices for them.

I’m not telling them what to do, I’m not judging them. I’m trying to provide a safe place for them where they know that we care, that we’re here to help them recover and to make sure that they receive justice that they deserve.

So, by being able to speak with them on the phone, sometimes, I think that that provided a level of maybe more comfort instead of having to look at somebody, you know, eye to eye in those initial moments, and then to process what it is that they need right now to help them focus.

Because it’s difficult, in a crisis situation, to be able to think clearly about what it is that you need that’s most important. So, to have an advocate there to help them walk through what is most important, what their needs are in that moment to help them move forward and to recover, to see what they want to do, to help them make choices, is crucial. It’s vital.

It’s about what’s best for the victim, making sure that they’re at the center of the process, not what’s easiest and best for law enforcement or the courts or anybody else, but for the victim.

I work a lot with domestic violence victims and survivors. There’s so much self blame and judgment.

And society obviously adds to that too, when we ask why does the victim stay instead of why is the abuser abusing? And that’s really the issue, but the victim is beating themselves up a lot, blaming themselves. That’s very common.

I listen primarily; that’s what I’m there for, but to [also] not allow them to continue to self blame, to help them see that this isn’t their fault, and that I’m not going to judge them.

The most important piece, I think, is for them to feel that I am empathizing with them, trying to put myself in their shoes, trying to accept them for where they are, to help them move forward. I have to have empathy. I have to be ready and present at all times, because I don’t know where that person is going to be at that moment and what they need.

I think being non-judgmental is also one of the most important pieces, but also being genuine so they know I’m not just saying to them what I say to everybody.

Every single victim I work with is unique, despite maybe the crime that they’ve experienced, their experience is unique. I can’t fully understand that, but I try to have empathy with my voice through the phone as best as I can, but just letting them know, whether it’s a follow-up email, that we’re here, that they’re not alone.

When somebody is in a relationship that’s abusive, they feel so alone, and they are. They’re often isolated by the abuser. It’s part of the cycle and the process. So, knowing that there’s somebody on the other line that’s really listening to them, that truly cares and wants to help them, regardless of what they decide to do, it’s not my decision. If they stay in the relationship or if they leave, I’m there to help support them, whatever that means for them at that moment.

I think my training as a counselor has helped me with that tremendously, to always remember the most important pieces of a counseling relationship, or any human relationship, and being able to have empathy for others.

In my work as a counselor and as an educator and now, knowing people personally but just seeing what people need in those moments, the empathy, not being judged, those are crucial. And knowing that they can trust someone else, being vulnerable with someone else, I think a lot of people don’t have that, and so I need to be that person at that moment.

While I’m not providing counseling services, I feel that that’s something that I’m able to do, and do well, is to listen.