Critical services to victims of sexual assault and abuse, particularly children, is now much more readily available for those living in Yuma and surrounding areas.

S.A.R.A. Inc. has set up a location in Yuma City Hall, where its experts will conduct interviews and examinations of victims. An open house was held at the new location last Friday.

S.A.R.A. has been helping to reduce trauma to abuse victims since 2006. It initially served adults,but soon expanded to include children. It has been accredited through the National Children’s Alliance since 2008.

Director Paula Bragg has been operating the S.A.R.A. House in Fort Morgan since its inception. Bragg said local law enforcement asked for a closer location, thus setting up a satellite office in Yuma.

Yuma Police Chief Jon Lynch said it will be very beneficial to victims, witnesses and law enforcement to have the services here.

Bragg noted that City Manager Scott Moore and Mayor Joe Harper were very influential in getting S.A.R.A. here.

Bragg was the director of victims services for the 13th Judicial District Attorney’s Office for 20 years. She said she realized children victims were not receiving the services they needed, and many adult cases also were not being prosecuted.

Therefore, she secured grants and founded the S.A.R.A. House. It is a child-friendly place where children come to be interviewed, and/or physically examined when there are concerns about possible child abuse.

It has been badly-needed as the S.A.R.A. staff sees approximately 140 children from throughout the 13th Judicial in one year, and provides services to a total of 375 people. The Yuma location will serve Yuma, Phillips, Sedgwick and Kit Carson counties, meaning shorter travel times for the victims and families. (The Colorado goal is to reduce travel time to one hour or less for women and children to receive services.)

Representatives of S.A.R.A. Inc. are pictured above in the examination room it has set up at Yuma City Hall, with quilts made by women’s groups for abuse victims. Pictured (l-r) are: Ken Harrell, Board of Directors member; Pastor Jaime Nieves, intern; Jennifer Ronspies, RN and SANE; Kyela Smith, counselor and victim’s advocate; Barbie Kendall, multi-disciplinary team coordinator; Paula Bragg, director, and; Monica Carrasco, bilingual forensic interviewer and victim’s advocate. (Pioneer Photo)

S.A.R.A. is a non-profit, relying on grants and local donations to keep operating. Bragg said she wanted to begin talking with local groups and possibly discover donors in order to help keep the services in Yuma. The non-profit also intends to conduct programs in schools and the community.

It is overseen by a seven-member board, which helps with financials, fund-raising, and brainstorming best ways to serve victims.

The location in Yuma City Hall includes a reception room. To one side is another room for interviews, and to the other is an observation room where law enforcement and the Department of Human Services watch the interview on a monitor. There also is an examination room in the far corner of city hall, which used to be a hospital.

Bragg’s full staff was at the open house to explain the non-profit’s multi-pronged approach in helping victims of abuse, and lead to a more-effective prosecution.

Monica Carrasco is the bilingual interviewer and victim’s advocate. Her forensic interviews with a child regarding possible allegations or an incident are conducted in a child-friendly interview room. The interview is part of the investigation, with law enforcement and DHS personnel in the observation room.

Carrasco said the interview process is designed so the child only has to tell his or her story one time, helping reduce the trauma by not having to retell it several times.

If deemed necessary, a forensic medical examination is conducted by Jennifer Ronspies, a Registered Nurse and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner. She collects physical evidence, checks for injuries and takes photos. Adult victims have three options in regards to an examination — a full investigation by law enforcement, a medical examination, or have evidence collected and stored, then processed later if they choose.

Kyela Smith is a counselor and victim’s advocate, providing trauma focused therapy. She is trained in understanding how a person uses both sides of the brain to collect and process information.

Barbie Kendall is the multi-disciplinary team coordinator. She organizes regular meetings in which the S.A.R.A. staff, law enforcement, the DA’s office and DHS discuss how cases are proceeding, about how they can do better and educate each other on what they are learning. The meeting improve communication and trust among all the agencies involved in abuse cases.

Pastor Jamie Nieves of the Yuma United Methodist Church also is on the team in a role she described as an intern. Pastor Nieves is in her third year of seminary, explaining she is working with S.A.R.A., such as being in the schools and hopefully helping youth through education and prevention.

One can learn more about S.A.R.A. at www.sarainc.org, and also at facebook.com/co.sarainc. One can email the victims’ advocate nonprofit at contact.sarainc@yahoo.com.