Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Justice alumni spotlight: Simona Gerdts, '14 BA Justice, Legal Studies minor

Simona Gerdts
Simona Gerdts, ’14 B.A., Justice, minor in Legal Studies, has been living in Minot, N.D., where her husband was transferred with the U.S. Air Force.  She is working in the justice field full-time as the office manager/paralegal for a private law practice in Minot.  And Simona continues her advocacy for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault (DV/SA). Her long-time interest in DV/SA advocacy motivated her to initiate a number of campus and community projects while she was at UAA.

The “UAA Says NO MORE” campaign was launched by Simona and Kristen Speyerer, both Justice majors/Legal Studies minors, as part of their senior year capstone project in fall 2013. They worked to co-brand their efforts with the "NO MORE" national campaign  — a nationwide effort to increase greater awareness and action to end domestic violence and sexual assault— and made presentations and coordinated events to get the word out about this effort both on campus and in the community.

Another event was the “NO MORE Silence in the Dark” panel which Simona and Kristen organized and presented on campus in March 2014. The panel presentation included representatives from the Alaska State Troopers, Anchorage Police Department, Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (ANDVSA), and faculty from the UAA School of Nursing and the Justice Center and drew a crowd of over 150 people. Simona and Dr. Ryan Fortson, Justice faculty, also made a presentation at Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson (JBER) to the Deputy Commander and other members of the USARAK Sexual Assault Review Board, about the “NO MORE at UAA” campaign.

L to r: Kristen Speyerer and
Simona Gerdts at a NO MORE
event on campus in 2014.
The culmination of the “UAA Says No More” campaign was a video PSA created in fall 2014  which features students, faculty, and staff. The "UAA says NO MORE" PSA, developed and coordinated by Simona and Kristen, was modeled on the national “NO MORE” PSA and has been highlighted on the national NO MORE website. (insert link) The video production and editing for the PSA were donated by Eric Baldwin, Media Technician, UAA Academic Innovations & ELearning.

Simona is now a certified victim advocate for the Minot Domestic Violence Crisis Center, having completed 30 hours of DV/SA advocacy training at the center.  She serves one week each month as the on-call crisis line responder where her duties include transporting survivors and their children to the Safe Home and responding to all DV/SA crisis calls received by the center during the evenings and weekends when the center is closed — which is approximately 120 hours of "alert" time.  She also provides support to victims during the sexual assault response team (SART) interview which is conducted by a forensic nurse examiner and an investigator from a law enforcement agency.

During her first SART interview with a victim, Simona relates how nervous she was. But this first encounter also helped confirm what direction her career would take. Simona recalls, “She [the victim] looked at me after about an hour and asked if I was a social worker, I replied, ‘I am not, but I hope to be one day,’ and then she said ‘Well you have made me feel so at ease from the very first moment that you walked into this room that I thought for sure you were a social worker.’… [T]hen she began to ask me questions pertaining to the protection order, how long the offender would have to spend in jail before being released on bail, preliminary hearing/arraignment...what do all these terms mean... and that's when I realized how beneficial my justice and legal studies knowledge is as it relates to my role as a victim's advocate. The hug that she gave me when I dropped her off at the Safe Home that night is a feeling that I won't soon forget.”

While in Minot, Simona and her husband and two sons stay busy remodeling their new home and taking care of their furry family members.