Morgantown comes together to ease the experience of trauma victims.
When Morgantown Police Officer Troy Ball heard the question, “Why do we interview survivors in the same place we interview suspects?” at a conference he attended in April 2016, it made perfect sense to him. Victims shouldn’t be subjected to the same cold, intimidating environment attackers are interrogated in. Joined by Detective Larry Hasley, Ball formed a plan for a soft interview room—a separate, warmer facility designed specifically for interviews of sexual assault victims.
Ball and Hasley did not want to spend a penny of the city’s money, so they asked local businesses for donations. They were not turned down once. Businesses donated volunteers, materials, furniture, and money to help create the room. “It was completely community-funded and a total community partnership,” Ball says. “The room really belongs to the community.”
The result, opened in April 2017, is a room designed to help trauma victims feel as comfortable and safe as possible. Ball and Hasley collaborated with experts to make sure every detail is physically and visually comforting, from the wall color down to the throw pillows. “This is a completely different environment, where we are trying to elicit information from the victim for them to help us identify and prosecute the suspect,” Hasley says. “The room allows for a type of conversation where the victims don’t feel like they’re being judged and are able to confide in the investigator and the interviewer.”
While the police department was changing the room where it interviews victims, it was also changing the way it conducts interviews. Before, the victim would have to go through multiple interviews with different institutions, such as the Rape and Domestic Violence Information Center and WVU’s Title IX office. This process re-traumatizes the victim by making him or her relive the incident multiple times. Now, all of the institutions involved in a case can sit in on the main interview with the officers. “In line with changing the interview tactics, it only makes sense to also have an environment that caters to that,” Ball says.
Because one in four women and one in 13 men will be victims of sexual assault while they are in college, WVU has also worked to ease the experience of trauma victims by increasing Title IX training throughout the institution—Title IX is the federal law that prohibits gender discrimination in institutions that receive federal funding. WVU’s Title IX office also investigates any sexual assault case that happens on campus, if the victim wants the university involved. “I think we are increasing awareness and creating an environment that is comfortable to report in through the cross-collaboration with the community,” says Marianna Matthews, WVU’s senior Title IX education specialist.
The soft interview room is named for Judy King, longtime director of the Rape and Domestic Violence Information Center, to honor her service of more than 30 years. “She has put her whole life dedicated to the victims of rape and domestic violence, and we couldn’t think of a better way to honor her service than to recognize the fact that what she has done is going to continue on as a legacy,” Hasley says.
written by KRISTEN UPPERCUE