April 25, 2019

Jaime Opanashuk: ‘You Are Not Alone’

A collection of curious items awaits those who visit Jaime Opanashuk’s Tyler House office – a squishy stress ball that looks like a doughnut, tubs of bold-tinted Play Dough, a coloring book.

Jaime Opanashuk is UMW's new victim advocate. Photo by Karen Pearlman.

Jaime Opanashuk is UMW’s new victim advocate. Photo by Karen Pearlman.

The trinkets engage multiple senses, Opanashuk said, and put those who come to see her at ease. As UMW’s new victim advocate, she welcomes anyone who’s experienced sexual assault or misconduct, or relationship abuse, and is confused about which way to turn. The position is funded as part of a $300,000 grant Mary Washington received from the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW).

With a perspective that’s evenly colored – as a probation officer, she’s supervised offenders; as a case coordinator, she’s worked with victims – Opanashuk is set to share her insight with UMW students who seek her services.

“Seeing survivors from day one of the incident and how they bloom and blossom … that gives me purpose,” she said. “The earlier we can educate students about warning signs and increase awareness, the more we can help decrease incidents of violence on campus.”

Q: What appealed to you about the victim advocate position at UMW?
A: Two things, victim advocacy has been a career passion for 20 years and I always find fulfillment in working to better my community.

Opanashuk starts a conversation with a student on Campus Walk during the Cocoa and Consent event. Photo by Marty Morrison.

Opanashuk starts a conversation with a student on Campus Walk at Cocoa and Consent. Photo by Marty Morrison.

Q: What’s a typical day like on the job?
A: Right now, I’m involved in a lot of training, meeting with community partners and trying to meet students and learn the layout of campus.

Q: What’s most rewarding about your position?
A: My role in assisting victims of violence transition into survivors.

Q: What’s most challenging?
A: Continuing to see evidence and examples of rape culture, oppression and victim blaming in our society.

 

Q: You’re one of the university’s few confidential employees. Is that daunting?
A: No. I am honored.  A survivor’s story is theirs to share if they choose to and not my decision to make for them.

Q: Your work can be emotional and intense. How do you disengage?
A: By baking cupcakes with my 3-year-old.

Q: If you could fly a banner over campus with just a few words, what would it say?
A: You Are Not Alone!

Q: What’s your favorite item in your office?
A: My mother-in-law’s very old cactus.  She lost her battle with dementia two years ago.  It’s sentimental.

Q: What’s one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?
A: Right out of college, I ran a county-wide domestic violence taskforce of 120 community partners and our county’s first domestic violence shelter for women and children. My position was funded by one of the early OVW grants. Ironically, 20 years later, my UMW confidential advocate position is again funded by an OVW grant.

Q: Any mottos you live by?
A: Thanks for challenging me to find one that fits my aspirations today: Be the person you want to meet!

Visit the UMW News site, to read more about Jaime. And catch up with her at The Escalation Workshop, a film based-discussion covering the signs of relationship abuse, presented by the Office of Title IX and the Center for Prevention and Education on Wednesday, Feb. 6, at 4 p.m. in HCC 307.