When facing any form of interpersonal violence—sexual assault, domestic abuse, elder abuse, or child abuse—one of the most invasive, traumatizing experiences a person could have—the process of seeking justice and services—can, unfortunately, add to the trauma by having to relive one’s story again and again. For Jean Fisher, this had to change.
“We want to de-traumatize this as much as possible so people don’t repeat their story,” said Jean Fisher, the Ada County Prosecutor special crimes chief and Faces of Hope Victim Center chief operating officer. “We want to make sure victims are in a place that is appropriate for an experience they have gone through. In an emergency room, you are subject to a schedule. Your event becomes less important than a life-threatening injury. You just experienced a traumatic event that, although not life-threatening, is huge.”
In 2016, Ada County Sheriff’s Office responded to 5,236 calls related to domestic abuse, child abuse, and sexual assault. According to the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, each day in Idaho 559 victims of domestic violence and their children seek safety and services from community-based domestic violence programs. The need for victim support is pressing.
The solution? Faces of Hope, a center that offers all the arms of trauma support and care under one roof. The organization has gone through some growing pains since its inception 10 years ago—it was originally called FACES Family Justice Center—and, over the past year, it has evolved to become one of the leading one-stop triage facilities in the country.
Fisher has been with the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office for nearly three decades. As the chief prosecutor for the special crimes unit, supervising child abuse and sexual assault cases is the norm. In her role, Fisher has seen the shortcomings of a victim’s journey to justice when dealing with a sensitive situation such as assault.
“If you were raped, you would have to go to the hospital for a rape kit, law enforcement for an interview, a counselor for therapy, and then the prosecutors to get ready for trial. It is the same situation for child protective services,” Fisher explained.
In 2004, an idea was sparked to bring all of these resources under one roof, thanks to Fisher and Ada County prosecuting attorneys Greg Bower and Jan Bennetts. They developed FACES Family Justice Center, “a multi-jurisdictional planning body to develop a community victim-assistance center” that opened its doors on the corner
of 6th and Myrtle streets in Boise. Their efforts laid the foundation for what it is today, but the model needed updating.
“We were underserving this population,” Fisher said. “People would think it was just for families or just a justice center. It isn’t just for families. It isn’t just for justice. Some people just want to get away and get the resources to do this. We can help.”
Fisher moved to the center full time in April 2016. She and others developed a new model with two arms: The Faces of Hope Victim Center and the Faces of Hope Foundation. Fisher worked to move the fundraising aspect away from the county and to provide a clear distinction between the two entities.
Ada County oversees daily operations and provides the building and utilities at no cost. The foundation works to raise funds and fill the community resources gap by providing essential services that the victims might not be able to afford or that may not be covered by insurance.
The Faces of Hope Victim Center provides 18 private and public partners that collaborate in one building to offer a myriad of services to victims: from law enforcement, safety planning, medical care, and forensic examinations, to support groups, self-defense classes, and emergency assistance.
The result is a clear, all-encompassing center that fills the needs of Ada County residents undergoing crisis. Each of the 18 partner organizations covers and controls its own programs, but the united center allows for collaboration and a coordinated response to better serve those in need.
“We went from a budget of $30,000 that would get us hotel rooms and some gas cards, to this year’s, which is $500,000,” Fisher said. “Our whole model is providing a safety net of services to stabilize each person. This helps immensely in getting someone to stay engaged and move forward, rather than recant and move back to the situation.”
Although justice centers exist throughout the country with a similar mission, the team at Faces of Hope knew they wanted to go one step further and do it all. This meant providing medical services, too. St. Luke’s Women’s Clinic, Saint Alphonsus & St. Luke’s Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner, and St. Luke’s Children at Risk Evaluation Services provide on-site medical exams.
Faces of Hope recently added a partnership with the University of Idaho College of Law to provide free legal counsel, an aspect of removing persons from abusive situations that can often be a barrier.
“This center is a great example of what could happen statewide if the resources were there, and we looked at our resources differently,” said Fisher. “You don’t all have to have a center as large or as complex as ours. But in all of these rural areas, you could share your resources so much more.”
Fisher and team measure the success of Faces of Hope with one word: hope. When a person arrives at the door, he or she does an intake survey on how that person is feeling by circling adjectives. Words like “overwhelmed,” “confused” or “distrustful” might be circled. When victims leave, they are given the same survey; however, the answers are different. Words like “hopeful,” “empowered,” and “believed” carry the day.