SafeHouse's Brendan Skorepa Is Victim Advocate of the Year
As a court advocate for domestic violence victims, Brendan Skorepa isn’t afraid to admit that victims are not always pleased to meet him. At first, that is.
Brendan works for SafeHouse of Seminole, which houses and protects those who have been abused in a relationship. He is frequently the first person victims see before beginning the difficult process of seeking an injunction, finding temporary shelter, and starting their lives over. Most of the time, these victims are women. And sometimes a man is the last person they expect – or want – to see when they walk through the doors of SafeHouse.
“I do get that look,” Brendan says. “Not often, but I get it.”
But it is Brendan’s ability to break through that initial reticence and build trust that so impresses his colleagues at SafeHouse and beyond. And during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week earlier this year, the state attorney’s office named Brendan the 2016 Victim Advocate of the Year among all the agencies that partner with the state.
“What Brendan represents is a shift in a way of thinking,” says Jeanne Gold, executive director of SafeHouse. “It’s overcoming that barrier. People are amazed, they get past that, ‘Oh my God, it’s a man,’ and [they say] ‘I can talk to him. He listens to me. He is extremely helpful.’”
Brendan began working full-time at SafeHouse in March 2015. But he started as a volunteer in 2008, often engaging with children of the women staying at the shelter. He’d shoot hoops with the kids, ride bikes, and show genuine interest in their lives.
That kind of interaction was invaluable at a time when those children did not have an ideal male role model, Jeanne says.
Brendan, who lives in Sanford, spends most of his time at the downtown Sanford courthouse, where he helps SafeHouse clients prepare injunctions to keep abusive partners away.
Brendan says he uses a low-key approach when getting domestic-violence victims to open up to him.
“A lot of the time, they feel vulnerable,” Brendan says. “I do not push them on what the situation is. I tell them, ‘I’m here if you have any questions.’ I step back and wait for them. That gives them empowerment.”
Moving forward with an injunction is probably the most difficult part of a victim’s journey, Brendan says. They may wonder if a court order will just make things worse, or if it will really protect them. His job, Brendan says, is to coach the victims and reassure them through the process.
Brendan says he was “pretty shy” growing up but learned to be more outgoing in college.
“Now it’s become second nature,” says Brendan, who uses his engaging personality to help victims. “It’s been great; I’ve learned a lot. I’m still learning things every day.”
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