Child Advocacy Center That Gives Victims A One-Stop Shop Now Open In SD
WATERTOWN, S.D.– At least 4,000 children are sexually abused in South Dakota each year. And experts believe there are additional cases that never get reported. When they do, they say many counties don’t have the resources to deal with them. But that has now changed in the northeast portion of the state.
“Each and every day I’m working on a new case of child maltreatment.”
Special Agent Cameron Corey with the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation says he’s been in law enforcement 20 years. Most of that time he’s spent dealing with children who are victims of sexual assault.
“Fourteen years ago this was not a conversation,” said Corey. “This is a crime or an issue that’s uncomfortable and people don’t want to talk about it.”
Corey says Project REACH in Watertown is trying to change that. The child advocacy center serves victims of neglect, physical and sexual abuse. But unlike other centers, victims can get medical care, legal counseling, and mental health help all in one place; the first regional center of its kind in the country.
Corey said, “Now, it’s a one-stop shop. They’re meeting with all of these different disciplines right here instead of saying, ‘Well, here’s an appointment in two days, three days’.”
The center serves victims in more than a dozen counties in northeast South Dakota. Prior to the center’s opening, authorities would have to send them to Sioux Falls.
Jolene’s Law Task Force Member and Codington County State’s Attorney Patrick McMann said, “We’ve eliminated the fact that children, their location, determines the sort of response they get.”
REACH has had its doors open for a little over a month. Every day they’ve been booked, seeing up to 7 children a day.
“It’s one of those things, where it doesn’t feel like a positive, but it is a positive to know that there was all these children that needed a place to go and that we’re able to fulfill that need,” said McCann.
REACH is a pilot project, but has secured funding for at least the next three years. The REACH Team hopes that if all goes well, the same multidisciplinary approach will be applied in other parts of the state.