Virginia’s first family justice center opens its doors, offers free resources for crime and abuse victims

NORFOLK, Va. — On the 6th floor of 500 Plume Street in Norfolk, a team of people are busy working to help protect and advocate for victims.

The Norfolk Family Justice Center officially opened its doors Thursday. It’s a multi-agency resource center that focuses on helping physical and sexual abuse victims get all the resources they need under one roof.

It's not the only of its kind, but it’s the only one you’ll find in Virginia.

Chesapeake Forensic Specialists, Norfolk Department of Human Services, Norfolk Police Department, Office of the Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney and YWCA South Hampton Roads are working together to make it easier on victims to access the services they need.

This is made possible with grant funding from the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

Kristen Pine is the Chief Programs Officer of YWCA South Hampton Roads and is the Co-Director of the Norfolk Family Justice Center. She says victims often miss out on crucial services.

“What we found was that we were losing the them along the way, but it was just really difficult to kind of deal with the trauma of what had happened and then be able to go to the police department go to court get that emergency protective order," says Pines.

Now, most services are all under one roof.  For example, a victim can choose to file a report with police and then walk down the hall and get rape kit test.

The Family Justice Center knows some of the most vulnerable victims can be the youngest. That’s why they have the family childcare room.

It’s brightly-colored, and it’s a space where counselors can meet the needs of children while the kids wait for their family members to get the services they need.

"We have a large problem with the cycle of violence," explained Pines. "We get kids who witness violence and then become violent later in life or become victims later in life. We want to effectively treat that trauma and break the cycle of violence so we don’t have such a societal problem."

If or when victims are ready to take legal action, lawyers like Krista Fulton with the Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney will be waiting for them down the hall.

Fulton is the other Co-Director of the Norfolk Family Justice Center. She says many people decide not to take legal action, but they have lawyers who can talk to victims on site and prosecute offenders - free of charge.

"We hope we're able to prosecute more offenders. We hope that we're able to stop the cycle of violence or we hope that we can reduce recidivism, but most of all, we hope that we can help victims feel like they’re being supported and that there was justice for them."

The YWCA Crisis Hotline is available 24/7 and can victims can speak with a victim advocate to help them identify available services. The number is 757-251-0144.

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