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Grant creates safe Southend space for child interviews

"In situations of domestic violence, physical and sexual abuse, and sexual assault, there are no victims more difficult to interview than children.When children are the victims, the hours following the crime can be as traumatic as the abuse itself. To investigate crimes against children, both law enforcement and Child Protective Services need to interview them. Unfortunately, those interviews often muddy the picture as children are questioned over and over again by multiple adult investigators in surroundings that are frightening even for adults.A state law that takes effect this year plus locally-generated grant money changed that situation this week for Island County children. Using $11,500 of grant money from Citizens Against Domestic and Sexual Abuse (CADA), the Island County Sheriff's Office and the Oak Harbor Police Department are outfitting two child interview rooms, one in Oak Harbor and another at the sheriff's South Precinct in Freeland. In the aftermath of the contentious Wenachee sex crimes investigation, the Washington legislature passed a mandate in 1999 requiring all counties to have a dedicated soft interview room for children and to outfit that room with -- at the very least -- audio recording equipment.Sheriff's Detective Sue Quandt, who is one of three qualified child interview specialists in Island County, said the new South Precinct interview room will make a difference for traumatized children and families. In 1999, the sheriff's office investigated 99 sex crimes perpetrated against children. Many of those cases occurred on South Whidbey, but the victims had to be interviewed in adult or hard interview rooms at the sheriff's office headquarters in Coupeville. The long drive, Quandt said, only made things worse.It's easier if it's someplace close for them, she said.The South Precinct office will be wired with both audio and visual recording equipment, which will allow interviewers to get the facts in an abuse case the first time around. The equipment will also keep children and families at ease, because only one interviewer will need to be in the room at a time. Witnesses, who are required for such interviews, will be able to observe the interview on a video screen in another office at the precinct.I'm pleased. I'm very pleased, Quandt said. There will be no question about who said what to whom.Val Stafford, CADA's executive director, said funding the interview rooms is something that has been on the organization's agenda for some time. She said the CADA grant was used to purchase the audio and video equipment for the two interview rooms.It's pretty exciting, she said.The South Precinct room is also furnished much like a comfortable family room, with child-sized furniture, toys, and soft, warm places to sit or lie down. The sheriff's office purchased the furnishings in 1995 with grant money from South Whidbey's Child Abuse Prevention Foundation.While readying the interview room, the sheriff's office expanded its office space in the Main Street building it occupies. It now has a larger reception area at the front of the building and an additional detective's office. "

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