WILMINGTON — The Alternatives to Violence Center, with an office in Wilmington as well as Hillsboro, was recently awarded funding through the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and United Way of Clinton County to expand on services addressing the issue of sexual violence and child abuse.
On Oct. 1 the agency opened its adult forensic program, providing evidence collection and supportive care to victims of sexual assault ages 14 and up.
“Services now include forensic exams completed by registered nurses who are specifically trained to gather forensic evidence,” said Director Julie Brassel. She said that in the program’s first week of operation they served two adult victims of sexual assault.
The program is a one-stop holistic approach where survivors are met by not only an on-call nurse, but also a trained advocate.
Services include counseling by a licensed therapist, legal assistance through attorneys, court advocacy, support groups, safety planning, medical advocacy, shelter, personal advocacy and a 24-hour crisis line.
“Prior to the agency opening the forensic program, survivors were driving an hour or more to have evidence collected in a hospital emergency room,” Brassel said. “The process for some was over 12 hours long, which generally included trips to two different hospitals.”
At AVC’s new center, survivors are greeted and explained the process in a space that’s fashioned after a living room.
“We know nothing we do will completely alleviate the pain they are encountering, but we know for certain the environment at our facility is more soothing and private than a bustling emergency room,” Brassel said.
She stated that evidence collection takes approximately two hours to complete.“Compared to emergency rooms serving multiple patients, the victim is our priority and sole patient, meaning we can assess their safety, and provide care and support at a much faster pace.”
Brassel stated that victims seen are given new blankets and new fuzzy socks during the exam, and then are provided with new clothing as they prepare to leave. Not only is the process faster for the victim, but law enforcement have reported being pleased with how close the facility is, decreasing their time in driving to and from to collect evidence kits.
Child advocacy center
The agency has also been awarded funds to open a child advocacy center.
Brassel reports that the program will be open to Clinton and Highland counties, and will feature nurses trained to gather evidence in pediatric cases, as well as certified forensic interviewers, and a recording system used during interviews with children who report abuse.
Brassel said the agency has hired Kimberly Newman, who has 17 years of experience in facilitating forensic interviews. A multidisciplinary team will work to review cases and evidence, ensuring that best practices are followed while reviewing gaps in services.
As with the adult program, the Child Advocacy Center will be comprised of therapists who provide trauma informed care utilizing an evidence based program. Additionally, attorneys will be available to help families deal with the aftermath of abuse.
Advocates will provide safety planning, case management, transportation and support to the child and non-offending family members.
The agency is hiring a full-time nurse to provide forensic exams for children, as well as general assessments and referrals for follow-up care. On-call nurses will ensure the program is available 24/7.
“I really can’t stress how much our community has worked to help establish these programs,” said Brassel. “Members of the Sexual Assault Response Teams in both Clinton and Highland Counties have really been the moving force behind the center expanding services.
“For example, Clinton County Children Services traveled with us to visit other Child Advocacy Centers in the state, and researched recording systems. Highland County Community Action has worked with the agency to provide follow-up medical care to survivors. Clinton County Prosecutor’s Office provided nurses with education and training on being an expert witness in court.”
Brassel believes the Child Advocacy Center will be open in late spring 2018.
For more information on these and other agency programs, please visit the agency’s website at avconline.info or visit the agency’s Facebook page.