Lotus Mobile Unit Assists with Abuse Investigations
MURRAY – Lotus Sexual Assault Center has teamed with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) By the Lakes in Murray to provide a mobile unit making it easier for children to tell investigators if they have been abused.
CASA by the Lakes Executive Director Jessica Foust said Lotus’s Hope Heal Grow Mobile Unit is the first of its kind in Kentucky. The large RV was custom-built and is equipped with a waiting area, medical exam room and forensic interview room.
“Our volunteers work with children of abuse and neglect in Calloway County between the ages of zero to 18, and unfortunately, that does involve sexual abuse, so we have a good working relationship with Lotus,” Foust said. “They’re a great resource for children that we work with and children in this community. The mobile unit is incredible because it helps them to reach even more families, (such as) families with transportation issues that might have a hard time getting into their office.”
Lotus brought the mobile unit to CASA’s office on Extension Way off U.S. 641 North Tuesday to allow community organizations, individuals and families to look at the vehicle and all it has to offer. The public was also invited to tour the CASA office while they were there. Caroline Glynn Neal, director of community relations for Lotus, said Lotus has an ongoing partnership with CASA through Lotus’s multidisciplinary teams, which support “our collaborative response to child abuse cases in the Purchase Area.” Lotus provides forensic services, which essentially means that trained staff provide children with a safe environment to tell about the abuse they have suffered, she said.
“The opportunity for the Hope Heal Grow Mobile is to break down barriers to receiving services for children and families who have experienced child abuse and neglect,” Neal said. “We know that research shows that child victims who receive forensic services are more likely to receive specialized medical and mental health care in the future. (With the mobile unit) caregivers are able to feel more connected to (Lotus) family advocates and more likely to become engaged in the recovery process.”
Neal said the mobile unit is especially useful for families that might be experiencing barriers like lack of transportation, geographic isolation or cultural and social stigma around abuse. Others may not be able to take off work to bring a child, so the mobile unit can meet them at a time and location that is discrete and convenient for them to provide the same services they would receive at Lotus’s Paducah office, Neal said.
Bethany Vaughn, Lotus family advocate, said the children they assist are generally victims of crime, including sexual violence, physical violence, abuse and severe neglect. Lotus’s service region is the eight-county Jackson Purchase Area.
“We’re able to provide that forensic interview service when crimes (occur) or when kids make disclosures of different experiences they have had (that leads to) an open investigation of child abuse, either through Department for Community Based Services or law enforcement,” Vaughn said.
“The purpose of a forensic interview is to collect information that will either corroborate or refute allegations or suspicions of abuse,” said Nichole Wadley, Lotus’s forensic interview/Children’s Advocacy Center team lead. “It can only be provided through the request of investigators because it’s for the purpose of their investigation. We’re very lucky to have active multidisciplinary teams in every county of Kentucky’s Purchase Area, so law enforcement and social services will contact us to collect that statement from the child. Every forensic interviewer is a mental health professional. We’re collecting (the child’s testimony) for everyone who needs to know, and we record video and audio for law enforcement and social services. Sometimes, the prosecutor watches that forensic interview live so they can provide feedback and ask additional questions as needed.
“It is a ‘trauma-informed’ way to collect that information, and we have children who talk about how they feel like that was their first step to healing. It’s not rare that I hear things like, ‘I feel really good because I feel like it’s off my shoulders,’ or ‘I’ve never told somebody all of that.’ In fact, of the children who come to our center and disclose abuse, 25%-30% of those disclose additional incidents of abuse that were not previously known. Kids feel so comfortable that they’ll talk about the pieces that they often think might be the worst pieces, that they haven’t felt empowered enough to talk about before.”
“Being able to provide that means more criminal charges,” Vaughn said.
Neal said Lotus no longer has a satellite office in Murray since the agency’s lease at the Weaks Community Center ended over the summer. She said, though, that the organization hopes to be able to make an announcement in the coming months about a new satellite office location somewhere outside of McCracken County.