Forensic center moves forward

Published 10:55 am Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Southside Center for Violence Prevention (SCVP) is in the process of opening a forensic advocacy center that would provide support for those who have experienced sexual or domestic violence in Lunenburg, Prince Edward and Mecklenburg counties.

The Forensic Advocacy Center (FAC), located in Farmville, would provide testing following an incident, and provide resources and advocacy while the person affected navigates the legal and medical system.

The SCVP, which offers education, classes and resources for those affected by sexual violence, is the parent organization of Madeline’s House, which provides shelter for those affected by domestic violence.

The center will begin offering forensic interviews starting July 1, and sexual assault examinations starting Oct. 1.

Forensic Advocacy Program Director Monica Ratliff said the FAC is set to have an examination suite similar to that of a gynecology room.

There will also be a forensic interviewing space where law enforcement or nursing staff can watch interviews from a separate room. This is designed so that the victim will not need to re-tell the story as frequently.

“Sexual assault care is a specialty form of health care that requires unique equipment and spacing for patients to receive the holistic care that they deserve,” Ratliff said.

The center will also have a shower so that victims can shower or change clothes before leaving for home or work.

Sexual Assault and Outreach Program Director Liz Chassey said a trained volunteer advocate can be in the room with the victim and nurse during the testing and can explain the process to the victim.

“During the exam, an advocate can offer emotional support while the exam is going on,” Chassey said. The advocate can also help communicate on the victim’s behalf to attorneys or law enforcement.

The volunteer advocates have gone through nearly 60 hours of training, which exceeds the 40 hours some programs require.

“We take the training very seriously,” Chassey said.

Ratliff is set to receive Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) certification before Oct. 1 from the International Association of Forensic Nurses, considered the gold standard for forensic nurse training. The requirements include 40 hours of online training for adults, 40 hours of online training for pediatrics, 300 hours of clinical practice in order to take the test to be certified.

Ratliff is also a registered nurse.

“For victims, when it’s 120 hours from the time of the assault, we’ll be able to see them and do a full forensic exam with the intention of hopefully collecting evidence,” Ratliff said. Each case is different, Ratliff said, but that the center will work to provide any assistance for the person.

“Anytime a victim is in need, they just need to call the hotline, and we’ll help walk them through it, or the police department,” Ratliff said.

The program has the potential to expand with federal and state grants, and county funding.

The county’s support is particularly important, SCVP staff members said.

In order to provide support for a county, the county’s commonwealth’s attorney, the director of the county’s social services and the police sheriff/chief must sign a cooperative agreement in order for the FAC to meet the requirements of the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Virginia.

SCVP officials said they are in the process of discussing the FAC and cooperative agreement with other counties.

The FAC is currently in need of specialty equipment. Forensic exam. A colposcope is one tool, which allows for a more detailed look at damages or injuries the victim sustained in order to collect DNA, and a forensic camera to document injuries to bring to court.

Services SCVP provides to those affected by violence aren’t just limited to the exam room.

“We offer a whole-person approach to helping the victim after they have been through the violence,” Chassey said. This includes individual and group counseling, meeting with attorneys, related medical appointments, help them apply for criminal compensation funds and helping college students through Title IX.

The SVCP is seeking to raise $40,000 from individuals and organizations in order to cover costs not covered by grant funding.

To donate to the FAC or learn about SCVP, visit southsidecenterforviolenceprevention.wildapricot. org. To receive care, call the hotline at (888) 819- 2926.