A new important merge has occurred — this one however is far from corporate.
Located in Van Nuys, the Center for Assault Treatment Services helps the victims of the worst assaults inflicted on children and adults — rape and assault.
The new facility opened it’s doors today, October 15, to have multi-agencies onsite personnel available to help both children and adult victims of sexual abuse, child neglect and domestic violence.
It’s described as a state-of-the-art center that, under one roof, offers the medical services from Dignity Health’s – Center for Assault Treatment Services (CATS), the counseling services of Strength United’s Family Justice Center, a CSUN community agency, LAPD major assault crimes detectives, and the district attorney’s office.
“This center is the first one in L.A. County,” said Joni Novosel, Director for the Center for Healthier Communities that oversees CATS.
“It is now one of 85 in the country” she said.
While CATS has worked with the other agencies previously, this center now puts everyone together under the same roof.
“The overall benefit is having access to a whole team right from the beginning from the same location,” Novosel said. “Everybody comes to you and that’s a real benefit and the environment is that it is designed to be sensitive. Over 55 percent of those we see are children,” she said.
The rooms of the center, including the room for children offers “comfort.”
“It is so much different from a busy emergency room where there is all kinds of different emergencies and you have people running in and out of your room. You are already going through your personal trauma and this center is designed to understand in a calm and comforting environment,” Novosel said.
Novosel points out that a collaborative team approach is a good way to offer support and help the victim to feel “safe,” after going through the shock and trauma of sexual and violent assault — including rape.
“When you look at the statistics of domestic and sexual violence, there is more that goes unreported then actually reported, so when it does get reported it’s up to all of us to make sure that the victim has the best care possible,” she said.
Dignity Health’s – Center for Assault Treatment Services and Strength United’s Family Justice Center Project, a CSUN community agency, has partnered with LAPD major assault crimes detectives and other agencies including the District Attorney to have personnel at the facility.
Typically when people are victims of rape, they wind up in hospital emergency rooms and then have to go to their area police department. At this new facility, abused and battered children, young adults and rape victims will no longer have to go from place to place to seek help; all medical care, evidence gathering, police interviews and psychological support will be available under one joint group at the new facility.
The LAPD and Sheriff’s Department crime investigators, counselors, physicians and other participating agencies will merge at this center along with support from various local police, fire and government agencies.
Officials at the opening event pointed out that every two minutes someone is sexually assaulted and every nine seconds a woman is assaulted or beaten in the U.S.
Several politicians attended the grand opening event and toured the center’s exam rooms that have been designed to provide sensitive care with exam rooms. The new facility was praised as a new “family justice model.”
Speakers included Congressman Tony Cardenas, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, L.A. City Councilmember Nury Martinez, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, and L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey.
A Victim Shares Her Story
Having a supportive environment made all the difference for “Sheri,” who found her way to CATS. Sheri was sexually assaulted one night in her home in Santa Clarita.
“He was a stranger and he had broken into a window in my kitchen and I was assaulted [raped] at knife point. My husband was working out of town and I called my neighbor for help,” Sheri said.
At first she said she was confused as to why she wasn’t being taken by Sheriff’s deputies to her area hospital; instead, they took her to CATS.
“I learned that they served the entire San Fernando Valley and the Santa Clarita Valley and I am so grateful that is where they took me. The nurse practitioner held my hand through each step.”
She said that people think that this will never happen to them and there is still much stigma attached to rape so that people “don’t want to talk about it.”
“I’m pretty fortunate. You have to have a place that puts you on a path for recovery and has the resources. You are terrified and I just can’t imagine not having the CATS experience. We are very fortunate in our community to have this and now that even more is being offered so that you don’t have to go to the police department for the police interview, they are right there – that makes it even easier.”’
Sheri said that she believes that she received “justice” because she went to a CATS facility.
“They were able to take the DNA evidence from my case and match it up and he was caught and he was found guilty of 29 counts. I owe that all to CATS and he will now be in jail for the rest of his life. The DNA could have gotten contaminated in another environment. I was so lucky that I was taken to CATS and they handled all of the DNA evidence.”
She later learned that the man was a serial rapist terrorizing multiple women. What was especially frightening for her was that her teenaged daughters were just across the hall in their bedrooms when the sexual assault occurred.
There is a stigma attached to rape because women are afraid of the process and stigma said Sheri.
“There is a stigma and a lot of people still question what you were doing and they try to make it sound like the victim did something wrong and that in itself why many people won’t report it,” Sheri said.
“The process is hard and so that they don’t speak up because it’s embarrassing and I found myself even though I wasn’t on the street or wearing anything provocative, I found people questioning me and I found people don’t want to talk about it. People can talk about when you get sick or in a car accident. It hurts because all you want is for people to acknowledge you and help.
“We are very fortunate to have this center in this community.”
“I am a human being who was able to go full circle and I owe it to them that he was caught and I owe it that the facility was quiet and felt safe helped to provide the privacy and special care that was needed.
“I know there are people there that I can always call upon if I have a problem and they are very dear to my heart.”
She has become more involved to be an advocate for the nonprofit and participated in a fundraising marathon.
“Who would have thought that, at 50-years-old, I could have run in The Victory for Victims 5K, 10K walk/run, but I did it. I will do whatever I can to support them. When I first went through their doors, I was a terrified traumatized victim, I thought I was going to die. I had [experienced] having a knife at my throat. and now as a result of their help and support, when I went through those doors again I was able to meet the nurse who helped me and hug her and cry with her and thank her.
Now, when I go through those doors I am returning, not as a victim but as someone who is stronger and has gone full circle.” she said.
The Dignity Health Center for Assault Treatment Services (CATS) is located at 14651 Oxnard Street, in Van Nuys. Money is raised through grant writing and foundations. All services offered by the center are free.
The Child Abuse Hotline,
Los Angeles County
Adult Protective Services/Elder Abuse Hotline
Strength United Counseling Services