Tuscaloosa Safe Center Empowers Sexual Assault Victims with Compassion and Advocacy

21 Jan 2020 Reagan Shaw
The nonprofit Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner (SAFE) Center opened its doors on Nov. 1, 2018.  The nonprofit Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner (SAFE) Center opened its doors on Nov. 1, 2018. Reagan Shaw

Tuscaloosa SAFE Center, a nonprofit organization that specializes in helping sexual assault victims, has partnered with the Women and Gender Resource Center (WGRC) on The University of Alabama campus.  

“The SAFE Center provides a compassionate, patient-centered environment for sexual assault forensic examinations,” said Pam Jones, executive director of SAFE Center. 

The facility, which opened in November 2018, is a free-standing and private place where people 14 years of age and older can receive medical treatment for sexual assault and can get a forensic exam. Those ages 13 and younger will need to go to a children’s hospital. SAFE Center is working on becoming a pediatric center as well.  

“Everything that happens at the SAFE Center is up to the patient,” Jones said.  

Two full-time employees work at this nonprofit location, along with other on-call, part-time Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, or SANE nurses. The full-time employees are Jones, executive director, and Brenda Maddox, a SANE nurse and program director.  

“No one is required to have a forensic exam,” Jones said. “No one is required to press charges.” 

Every patient at SAFE Center must have an advocate upon arrival, or one will be provided. The advocates at SAFE Center are there to help patients through the exam process and their recovery. Advocates help with counseling, legal action, or just hold patients’ hands during the forensic exam. All exams and medications are at no cost to the patient.  

“Many patients come in and don’t know what to do at the moment,” Jones said. “Just because they come here does not mean they are required to do any test, questioning, or medication. They may just not know what to do at the time.” 

A rape kit must be completed within 72 hours without bathing or changing clothes to be effective. A victim can decide at any time, day, or year if they decide to press changes in the state of Alabama. If a patient isn’t sure whether they want to press charges, they can still have a rape kit completed and saved under an anonymous name and identification number.  

“All they’ve got to do is call us, and we will contact law enforcement with the number to pull the kit,” Jones said.  

SAFE Center has private entrances in the back of the building for law enforcement and patients who want to maintain privacy.  

“The entrances in the back have doorbells and cameras, so the front desk can talk to them and buzz them in without having to go back,” said UA Student Government Association Representative Allison Bailey. 

What makes SAFE Center different than other sexual assault facilities is that it is a free-standing building. Patients can avoid going to a busy hospital, which might reduce further trauma. SAFE Center, which is located at the Emergi-Care Family Medical Clinic, also offers follow-up care, including counseling and support group services.   

SAFE Center has a state-of-the-art forensic camera to take photos of patients who have been assaulted. It is a voice-activated camera that allows high quality photos without being invasive to the patient.  

“It was appointed to us to invest in this, because it is our mission to collect the best quality photos and evidence of an assault,” Jones said. “We want to help law enforcement seek the best justice possible.” 

SAFE Center has partnered with the WGRC on The University of Alabama campus. WGRC is a center for students at UA or Shelton State Community College where victims can seek advocates to bring with them to SAFE Center if they’ve been assaulted. Tuscaloosa’s Turning Point provides advocates for non-UA or Shelton State students in the Tuscaloosa area.  

“Everyone heals at their own rate,” Jones said. “Counselors are available as long as it takes for the patient to heal.”  

SAFE center is in the process of raising awareness of sexual assault in the greater Tuscaloosa area.  

“We can provide the necessary help victims need, which is why it is so important to know about our facility,” Jones said.  

For more information on the Tuscaloosa SAFE Center, visit tuscaloosasafecenter.com. 

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Druid City Living (DCL) is Tuscaloosa, Alabama's premier community newspaper, covering the great people, places and activities of the area.

 

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