MARICOPA — What can often be one of the worst days in a person’s life had until Tuesday been prolonged even further due to a lack of facilities in Maricopa. But now, victims of domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse and other family-related trauma now have a place designed for them, to minimize the pain as much as possible.

The Maricopa Family Advocacy Center will serve as a one-stop facility for victims of these types of crimes, providing all the services needed as law enforcement investigates. Before, victims were transported to similar centers in Eloy or San Tan Valley, creating long drives that forced them to dwell on what was happening.

That was deemed by Maricopa Police Department leaders as too harsh a reality, which is what spurred them toward developing this center more than three years ago. While they can’t stop the abuse from taking place, they knew they could make the reporting process much more comfortable, if everyone put in the work to create the advocacy center.

“I have never, in my 32 years of law enforcement, met more passionate people who investigate heinous crimes against our most vulnerable population,” said Maricopa Police Chief Steve Stahl. “These people that investigate — the detectives, the victim advocates, the nurses, the doctors, the forensic interviewers, the Department of Child Services, all of our partners — are phenomenal. And this building helps put that phenomenal work together in one building where all services can be provided and will be provided.”

The goal of the center is to streamline the reporting process for the victims, so they are not regularly re-victimized by having to tell their story over and over again. It starts when police officers come to the scene and hear what happened. If they decide this is a case where people need to be kept safe and an investigation needs to be ramped up right away, they call an investigation team any time of day, and that team will meet the victim or victims at the center.

When the victims walk through the door, they are first greeted by an advocate who will then be assigned to that particular case for the duration. If there are children there, they will be taken to the play area of the center, where they can settle down and not be nervous to talk to a police officer.

Normally, the forensic interview will be completed first in a private room that is set up for audio and video recordings. They will then be taken to a room full of medical equipment to be examined by nurses and doctors. Everyone involved will then get together and figure out where to go with the case.

If a child’s safety is in question, they might call the Department of Child Services. If a victim is deemed to be in danger and needs a place to stay, they will be sent to the Against Abuse women’s shelter.

“Once a person has been traumatized by a violent crime, no matter what it is, it takes a special type of person to help them get through that process and help them deal with the trauma they are going though,” said Ray Villa, the executive director of the Community Alliance Against Family Abuse. “And you know what, some people never really get over it. But what they need is support and advocacy all along the way.”

The center used to be a home belonging to Dawn Theroux, who was present at Tuesday’s ribbon cutting ceremony, and was emotional as she took a tour through the building that has been completely renovated into an optimal location. She told the crowd that if she didn’t believe so strongly in the mission of the center, she would never have been able to let the house go.

“It’s been a challenge for me, because I have a great love for this facility,” Theroux said. “But I loved the dream more.”

Other partners who helped MPD make this a reality included the nonprofit family advocacy program Winged Hope, Dignity Health, the Casa Grande Police Department and the Pinal Country Sheriff’s Department. Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer was present at the ceremony to offer his support, saying he wishes every community had a center like this.

This is the 19th such shelter in the state, and the third in Pinal County. The other two, in Eloy and San Tan Valley, were started by the Pinal County Attorney’s Office in 2005 and 2014 respectively.

“What we know is when these facilities open up, we have more victims come forward, more victims that get treatment, more survivors we can assist,” Volkmer said. “And that helps us put perpetrators behind bars.”

Once the ceremony wrapped up, the center officially became open for victims. And while everyone present hoped that it would never have to be used, they know the reality of the world.

“When we as a community are able to come together and address an identified need, that’s when we are really able to have a true, important impact, and to do so with dignity and respect for those who walk through that door,” said Kathleen Dowler of Dignity Health. “… We can’t make it happen ourselves, but when we get really driven individuals and leaders and agencies in our community to help us address those needs, we do it far better.”

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