‘She cares’: Crime victim advocate for Douglas County DA’s office honored with state award
photo by: Douglas County District Attorney's Office
Cindy Riling said the hardest part of her job guiding crime victims through the court process is seeing firsthand the suffering they go through, which for many will be a lifelong process.
The most rewarding part is when people stay in touch down the road to let her know they’re doing OK.
“The rewards I get are the people that let me know they’re living their best life,” Riling said.
Riling won a statewide award for her work as a victim-witness advocate for the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office. In conjunction with National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt bestowed on Riling the Outstanding System-Based Advocate Award during a ceremony Thursday in Wichita.
Riling’s expertise is recognized statewide, Schmidt said in a news release: “Her dedication to the victims she serves is evident to her colleagues and community partners, as well as to those she serves.”
Even years later, Schmidt said, Riling gets baby pictures, wedding invitations and other notes and messages from the people she’s guided through court proceedings. He said they’ve included families of murder victims and victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, drunken drivers, property crimes and “just about every other crime imaginable.”
Riling is married to a Lawrence attorney, Mike Riling, and they have three children and two grandchildren.
After 10 years as the registrar at the University of Kansas School of Law, Riling joined the Douglas County DA’s office in 2001, she said. She started as a trial assistant and became a victim witness advocate in 2005.
Her job is part logistical coordinator and part shoulder to lean on.
She said she’s a “first stop” for crime victims dealing with the DA’s office.
She explains the criminal justice system they’re about to become a part of, tells them what to expect in the case, informs them of developments and coordinates getting victims to court when they’re needed to testify.
She also helps them plug into community support resources and provides some emotional support herself.
“We do a lot of listening,” Riling said, “because victims of crime just need someone to hear their story. It’s very important to know that we believe them.”
Crime victims don’t always want to participate, or even if they do it can be very difficult for them. To communicate, Riling said she tries to put herself in their shoes.
She said she tries to explain, “I’m sorry that this has happened to you,” “Let me tell you some ways that we can help you,” or “We need your help in holding this person accountable.”
DA Charles Branson said Riling is effective because she cares.
“She cares about each and every victim no matter what their situation,” he said. “I have seen her sit with an upset victim or play with a child in the waiting room while the parent testifies. She is there to help the person through the process in whatever way she can.”
One of the nominating letters for Riling’s new award came from a therapist she’d referred a male crime victim to, she said. One example of the rewarding side of her job, the words brought Riling to tears, she said.
“I never thought that anyone would take me seriously or give me help,” the victim said, according to the nomination quoted in the attorney general’s announcement. “I never felt believed. Cindy changed that … It’s difficult to go through something like this alone. It’s even harder when you are a man. You don’t want to ask for help. I didn’t have to. She offered.”
photo by: Contributed photo