Center For Violence Victims In Works

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After experiencing something as traumatic as domestic violence, rape or child abuse, sometimes the most frightening part of the whole experience can be asking for help.

The bright lights of the hospital emergency room and the endless questions from strangers can stop someone from taking the next step to protect themselves. Which is why a group of community leaders have been meeting for the better part of a year to discuss the possibility of a one-stop center for victims of these crimes.

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Domestic violence specialist Andrea Sierra from Mesa's Center Against Family Violence speaks to local community service leaders about the need for a one-stop center for victims of violence.

Armed with an innovative planning grant obtained from the Governor's Office of Children, Youth and Families, a task force has been assessing the need for, and feasibility of, such an advocacy center in northern Gila County.

"We envision a place where people don't have to be re-traumatized or re-victimized when they are already doing all they can do to make their lives better," said task force co-coordinator Christy Walton.

There are currently 13 such centers in Arizona, 600 in the United States.

After visiting several centers, the task force invited detective Coy Johnston and domestic violence specialist Andrea Sierra from Mesa's Center Against Family Violence to speak to local community service leaders.

Johnston was a sex crimes officer in the late 1980s. Back then, he said, a police officer's duty was mainly to get the victim's story so the "bad guy" could be prosecuted. At that time, it could take 12 or more hours for police to interview a victim and get him or her to the hospital for forensics.

Mesa's Center Against Family Violence opened in 1996 when being sensitive to the victim became more of a focus for law enforcement.

Now, Sierra and advocates like her, offer the victim a person to trust.

"I educate the victim on what can be a very intimidating system," Sierra said.

Components of Mesa's CAFV include a victim services officer and a forensic child interviewer from MPD, on-call forensic nurse examiners, representatives from the Maricopa County Attorney's office and City Prosecutor office, Child Protective Services and St. Joseph's Hospital.

These days, the whole interview and examination process takes about four hours because police, prosecutors and advocates are housed in one location.

The victim usually has a single interview with breaks so the detective interviewing him or her can consult with others for clarifying questions.

A forensic nurse examines her right at the Center.

Because crisis intervention services are on-site, the victim and her children if need be, can be placed in a shelter without having to go to another agency and tell her story all over again.

If an order of protection against the attacker is needed, the victim does not have to go to court. He or she can obtain one at the Center.

"(A center like Mesa's) is something we need here in Payson," said Jim Katches, probation officer for the Tonto Apache Tribe. "It would be great. I just hope we have a large enough community to support it."

The challenge is to tailor a solution to the problems faced here in Payson. To that end, the task force discovered a lack of understanding of what services were provided by which organizations.

They created a Community Services Directory for service providers, as a first step, said Jean Oliver, education coordinator for the Time Out Shelter and co-coordinator of the task force.

Initial partners for a center in Payson would be the Payson Police Department, DPS, the Gila County Sheriff's Office, Rim Guidance and Time Out.

Now that the need has been identified, the next step is funding.

To get involved or for more information, call (928) 472-8007.

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