Getting up on the witness stand in court can be a scary experience for anyone, especially a child who is facing his or her abuser. Thankfully Astro is there, wagging his tail, to calm kids in the courthouse as they tell the judge and jury about the terrible things that have happened to them.
Astro is a therapy dog, similar to a guide or service dog, trained to assist trauma victims through the investigation and prosecution of crimes. He helps children cope by providing a reassuring presence during interviews, medical exams and therapy sessions at the Providence St. Peter Sexual Assault Clinic and Child Maltreatment Center in Lacey, Wash.
The center is the only one of its kind in the five-county area. What makes it so unique is that community agencies and services are all co-located at the clinic, including legal resources through Monarch Children’s Justice and Advocacy Center. This collaboration provides young victims and families one location to receive care and services, preventing repeated trauma from having to share their story multiple times.
Each year, the center serves more than 350 patients and their families, thanks to a $1 million community investment by Providence. Bringing Astro to the center was a team effort by Providence, Monarch, the Thurston County Prosecutors Office Special Victims Unit, the Courthouse Dogs Foundation and the Community Action Council of Lewis, Mason and Thurston Counties.
Raising awareness of abuse
Sadly, statistics show that one in five children will be sexually abused by the age of 18, and most are victims of someone they know and trust. To protect vulnerable children, the center provides free education workshops with support from the Providence St. Peter Foundation. Since 2008, more than 800 community members have been trained to recognize and respond to signs of abuse.
To learn more about Providence St. Peter Sexual Assault Clinic, visit their website.