Claudia Nelimark has always been drawn to women in difficult situations. When she joined WATCH as a volunteer in September 2011, she had been a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) for 12 years. Familiar with the forensic nursing aspect of domestic violence and sexual assault, Claudia came to WATCH interested in learning more about the legal side. At a conference on human trafficking, Claudia sat next to a WATCH volunteer, who told her about the organization. Claudia mentioned a case she had been involved with as a nurse, wondering about the outcome, and the volunteer explained that most court cases are matters of public record and agreed to email Claudia the result of the trial. Claudia says she was impressed with the volunteer’s knowledge of the court and legal system. “It was like a light bulb went off and the heavens sang and I thought, ‘I want to learn more about this organization!’”
Learning legal terminology and the court process is what has most challenged Claudia in her work as a WATCH volunteer, and she points out that this is a never-ending and forever-changing task. However, it was the approach to time within the justice system that most surprised Claudia. “There is time on our watches, and then there is court time. A lot of patience and waiting is required in the courtroom.”
She was also surprised at how difficult it is to obtain an order for protection, stating that she had been under the impression that if someone wanted protection from another, they merely went to the courthouse and applied. “It’s actually a very long, difficult, and humbling experience. It’s a lot of work to be protected from another.” She commends victims for their strength in standing up for what they deserve, but adds she also understands why so many give up on the process. To Claudia, the most important thing WATCH does is work toward the goal of making sure all victims are treated with respect and dignity and their safety prioritized.
As a SANE nurse, Claudia sees victims who come in after a sexual assault. She says they tell her what happened with changing emotions—from fear, to anger, to guilt. After answering many detailed questions about her memory of the rape, the victim goes through a humbling exam and then is photographed. Claudia states, “Each picture is a memory of fear and pain. I make sure the victim leaves the hospital with a safety plan, a safe place to go, and her dignity.” Through her work with SANE and as a WATCH volunteer, Claudia has become even more passionate about safety for people in abusive relationships. Most recently, she has become interested in the issue of human trafficking. It is important to Claudia to continue to learn as much as she can to do her part to one day put an end to these crimes.
In addition to her work with WATCH and SANE, Claudia is a registered nurse. She and her husband of 30 years have two boys—ages 16 and 20. Music is central in their family. Claudia enjoys listening to her sons play classical pieces on the guitar and violin, and Claudia plays cello with a small chamber group. As a family and with friends, they get together as often as they can to “jam some bluegrass.” Claudia says her friends and family find her work to end violence against women as fascinating as she does.
Claudia believes it is a privilege to live in a country where we treat everyone fairly and as innocent until proven guilty. However, she highlights that defendants need to be held accountable for crimes of violence and believes a record needs to be kept of repeat offenses. She points out that domestic violence only worsens over time and stresses, “It needs to be stopped on offense number one.”
What Claudia enjoys most about being a WATCH volunteer is the people she meets: “Everyone has his or her own reason for volunteering at WATCH. What everyone has in common is a desire to help other people. I have to admit, I think this is a pretty selfish world, and to be surrounded by people passionate about helping others is inspiring.” When asked what she would say to someone who is considering volunteering with WATCH, Claudia responded, “Do it! You will meet some highly motivated people with a passion to serve others. Everyone I have met through WATCH is inspired to make this a better world. We can only try!”