The Center for Safety & Change, Inc. (the Center) is a nonprofit agency serving survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and other crimes in Rockland County, NY. Since its inception in 1979, the Center has been the sole service provider to victims of sexual assault and their families. The Center's Sexual Assault Program includes a 24-hour rape crisis hotline, accompaniment to court and other appointments, legal services, trial preparation, counseling and therapy, a 15-bed emergency residential shelter, services for families of survivors, support groups, translation, transportation, and a Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner program at both of Rockland’s acute care hospitals.
This reporting period, the Crime Victims Advocate worked with an 8-year-old bi-lingual (Spanish-speaking) rape victim who endured trauma beyond belief at the hands of an extended family member. The Crime Victims Advocate provided supportive counseling with a plethora of positive validations to the young survivor of the heinous crime as well as to the secondary survivor, the mother. Both the child and the mother received individual therapy and attended support groups.
The ADA prosecuting the crime worked closely with the advocate to ensure the child and mother were not re-victimized during trial preparations, which were lengthy, extensive, and emotionally exhausting. The Advocate provided translation and interpretation of the legal process to the child, her mother, and for the prosecutor during trial preparations.
The perpetrator was offered a plea deal months before the trial, however, he refused the deal because he doubted the young girl's strength; he thought she would not be able to withstand the pressure of testifying in court. To the perpetrator's dismay, the child and her mother courageously appeared in court the day of trial, despite the criticism and threats of excommunication they had received from other family members. Once the perpetrator realized they were present and were prepared to move forward, he took the plea deal. The perpetrator was sentenced to 14 years.
Working with a family that has undergone such a tumultuous crisis and ensuring their emotions not be hindered any further is a difficult task; however, the Special Victims Team worked together to ensure the child and mother were treated with compassion, love, and tenderness. During her time working with the Crime Victims Advocate, the child adopted the phrase "fearless", which helped her brave the legal journey she had ahead of her and continues to help her as she journeys through the healing process. The child's artwork, which reads "FEARLESS" is attached to this story, and is proudly displayed on the Crime Victims Advocate's wall.