A young girl sees the violent death of a loved one or is molested by a relative, and detectives need to talk with her.
For years, Tri-City children were asked to reveal their traumatic experiences in a tight room with a stereotypical mirrored window.
But it could be hard for anyone, especially young ones, to focus on the questions when they’re constantly reminded that people may be watching from the other side of the glass.
So when the Support, Advocacy & Resource Center was designing its new facility, they settled on installing discreet cameras in a panel the size of a light socket and to do away with traditional one-way mirrors so often seen in TV shows.
Kids still are told they’re being recorded, but now they might be able to forget about the cameras and relax in a comfy chair or at a small table. Hidden away in a nearby room are law enforcement, lawyers and Child Protective Services workers watching live on updated monitors.
Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller, who contributed ideas for the Kids Haven program’s new interview room, said the setting is less institutional and more inviting to help children disclose abuse.
“It was a distraction sometimes, in addition to taking away from the friendly feeling,” he said of the large window.
Kids Haven occupies just one corner of the new SARC building at 1458 Fowler St. in Richland.
The accredited agency provides around-the-clock crisis services, support and advocacy to survivors of sexual violence and human trafficking and their relatives in Benton and Franklin counties. Counselors also work with people who’ve been affected by other crimes like murder, gang violence and fraud.
After 17 years in cramped Kennewick office space on the northeast corner of Columbia Center and Grandridge boulevards, SARC ended its lease in June and moved down the road.
A two-year capital campaign with individual and business donations and state money paid for land and construction costs, though SARC has a 20-year mortgage because of unforeseen costs that bumped the cost up to about $2 million.
Executive Director JoDee Garretson chooses to see a positive in all of the numbers — her space nearly doubled to 6,000 square feet and she increased staff with money from new contracts
A grand opening and the agency’s 40th anniversary celebration is 4-6 p.m. Oct. 19. Brief remarks will be given at 5 p.m.
“The location has worked out really well and it’s a little more private for clients,” said Garretson, noting how people used to run into customers of neighboring businesses at the old space. “It’s not a secret place and it shouldn’t be a secret, but just a little more privacy is nice.”
SARC was started in September 1997 as a support program for victims of sexual assault. Its focus has expanded over the years along with the need for more services and resources.
In 2012, the agency changed its name to show it helps more than just sexual assault victims.
But Garretson said they will never forget those who made it happen.
It makes it more comfortable prosecuting these cases, knowing that we’re also going to be able to get help for these victims.
Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller
The “founding mothers” — Shirley Miller, Sheila Sullivan and Muriel Templeton — will be recognized at the open house with a special plaque.
“Thanks to the work of my mom and Muriel and Sheila, we are able to get a lot more convictions of sex offenders now than we were 40 years ago, and certainly the victims of sex offenders are receiving more help than they were,” said Andy Miller.
He also complimented Garretson for aggressively pushing for more space and staff to offer on-site counseling for children and adults. That includes when a child is being interviewed at Kids Haven, an advocate down the hall can speak with a parent or sibling who’s trying to understand and work through the trauma.
“It makes it more comfortable prosecuting these cases, knowing that we’re also going to be able to get help for these victims,” Miller said.
SARC had about 350 new sexual assault clients in 2016, in addition to ongoing cases.
Half are under age 12, a quarter of the clients are ages 12 to 18 and the rest are adults.
350 New clients in 2016
50% Under age 12
25% Ages 12 to 18
Garretson said some of those adults only recalled being sexually assaulted years later, and others started counseling in their childhood and have continued over the years.
Now celebrating her 22nd anniversary with the agency, Garretson said when she started they had 149 clients and a similar age breakdown. SARC had just three staff members then. Now it has 12 employees and a lot more programs, and yet the needs still are the same, she said.
About 70 percent of the sexual assault clients are girls and women, though Garretson believes the number of male victims is underrepresented.
State statistics show that one in three girls will be sexually assaulted by 16 and one in five boys by 16, so SARC should be seeing a lot more boys, Garretson said.
Advocates working general crimes had 140 new clients last year. That includes relatives of homicide victims, in addition to actual victims of kidnapping, property crime violence and other forms of abuse.
And now, with a response team dedicated to the new sex trafficking program, the agency has worked with 27 new clients in the three-month period from June through August, she said.
People come to SARC in different ways. They call the 24-hour crisis line saying they just were assaulted and don’t know what to do, or they’ve suddenly had a flashback. People who need help with an abuse situation can call the hotline at 509-374-5391.
Children say something to their parents and may be rushed to the hospital for an exam, or they exhibit concerning behaviors at home. Or a kid blurts something out in the middle of a prevention specialist’s puppet show at school and staff later pull the student aside.
It’s a senseless act. There’s no rational explanation for hurting another person, especially a child.
JoDee Garretson, executive director
Garretson said about 85 to 90 percent of the time the accused is known to the victim — it is someone they trust or love or are happy to be around.
“It’s a senseless act. There’s no rational explanation for hurting another person, especially a child,” she said.
Though the center welcomed the public into its new building in June, one piece remains unfinished.
An open-air space in the middle of the center was created for a “sanctuary courtyard,” because nature is healing and survivors and their loved ones need a spot to sit and reflect in silence, Garretson said.
Her vision for the enclosed space include trees, a water feature and sitting areas. Engraved bricks sold during the capital campaign will be placed in the courtyard.
Battelle donated $20,000 for the courtyard, but so far landscapers either haven’t returned Garretson’s calls or failed to follow up with a bid. She is hopeful that someone will step up to do the project, even if it now must wait until after the winter.