Washoe County's Center for the Littlest Victims
Washoe County’s Child Advocacy Center marked Child Abuse Prevention Month with an open house on Monday. Check out the safe place that has examiners, interviewers and therapists all helping a child after abuse…
Back in 2002 when Washoe County District Attorney Chris Hicks was a prosecutor, the Child Advocacy Center was little more than a pipe dream. He says back then, “I couldn't imagine it. We handled cases the wrong way when it involved child victims. There were far too many interviews, there were not enough investigative resources put into it."
The center at Rock and Longley in Reno was long overdue. Since opening in 2014, over 1,500 forensic interviews of child victims have taken place here. The exam room for children looks as non-threatening as can be, despite the “culposcope” used to detect forensic evidence of sex abuse. The interview room has a one-way viewing system that police, doctors and the DA's office can view to see what the child says. As forensic interviewer Alexis Auckenthaler showed us, "We video record them so that we can minimize trauma, so they don't have to rehash everything about what they're experienced." Center director Nicole Hicks told us, “That is such a benefit to these kids, only having to tell their story one time, to one person."
It sounds like a lot of crime fighting goes on here. But there's also the environment…a safe, non-threatening space. Nicole told us the object was “To make it soothing, and make sure a kid walks in and feels like they're at home."
Consider what little victims go through in these investigations, talking to strangers in an unfamiliar room about what happened. So the Center goes all out to put them at ease, from the stuffed toys and games…all the way to the colors on the walls. Nicole says designers went heavy “on greys and blues that wouldn't excite a child, that would just put him at ease."
And just as important, the center ensures thorough investigations to hold abusers accountable. Thanks to this place, successful prosecutions of these difficult cases have increased dramatically. D. A. Hicks told me, "We're now finding that the children that are victims are recovering faster, are getting the services they need."