New SAPD substation ‘safe rooms’ offer comfort, privacy to abuse survivors giving statements

The colorful rooms have toys, books for traumatized kids who come with their parent

SAN ANTONIO - – To help other abuse survivors, a San Antonio woman dug deep into her past.

“It all started with control. Don’t wear this, don’t wear that, saying how much time you can spend with your family. I didn’t even have a key to the house, so I wouldn’t leave because I couldn’t lock up. He wouldn’t let me work. It was the first time ever I didn’t have a job. Towards the end, it got physical and I couldn’t hide anymore. I couldn’t do it no more,” she said.

The survivor, who didn’t want to be identified, bravely made it out of two abusive marriages in a row. One of those men is the father of her daughter.

Two decades later, she wants survivors to take the early steps she didn’t.

“I actually didn’t call the police, just for pure fact of embarrassment. You don’t want people to think, ‘Well, are you dumb? Like why’d you stay there for so long?” she said.

When police respond to a domestic violence incident, they often offer to take the victims back to the station to give statements and details.

That typically took place in a detective’s office or even the lobby.

“You might not say everything that’s happened to you because you don’t want to say it out loud in front of people that you don’t even know,” the survivor said.

Now, there are finally designated spaces for those tough conversations.

Two months ago, SAPD unveiled “safe rooms” in every substation. They’re quiet private rooms with colorful and calming decorations.

The creation of those rooms was part of Metro Health’s trauma-informed care model.

“That means we are being more sensitive to the way people experience being a victim of a crime and communicating with law enforcement, communicating with an advocate,” said Metro Health’s Public Health Administrator for Violence Prevention, Erica Haller-Stevenson

Haller-Stevenson said all those conversations with patrol officers, detectives, and victims’ advocates now happen in the safe rooms.

“That helps the victim provide better statements. They feel more at ease and in providing more details about what happened, said SAPD Detective Beto Carrillo.

Carrillo interviews victims every day and is already seeing a huge difference for entire families.

SAPD and Metro Health knew that children were key to the comfort of the safe rooms.

“Most of our victims have kids,” Carrillo said.

While their mom or dad is in the room talking to police, they are now able to be distracted by sitting at a table their size, coloring with bright pencils, playing with stuffed animals, or reading one of 20 books on a shelf.

“At that time, there wasn’t a safe space like this. If my daughter was there, there’s something to occupy her, it would let me be more truthful with what’s happening to me,” the survivor said.

Even when that truth is painful, she hopes the safe rooms will help survivors find peace and life-saving support.

“Don’t give up,” she said. “The help is there. You just have to reach out to it.”

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is a long list of resources on KSAT’s Domestic Violence page which includes a breakdown of what abuse is, and how it builds gradually.

If you are in crisis, you can:

About the Authors

Courtney Friedman anchors KSAT’s weekend evening shows and reports during the week. Her ongoing Loving in Fear series confronts Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She joined KSAT in 2014 and is proud to call the SA and South Texas community home. She came to San Antonio from KYTX CBS 19 in Tyler, where she also anchored & reported.

Sal Salazar is a photojournalist at KSAT 12. Before coming to KSAT in 1998, he worked at the Fox affiliate in San Antonio. Sal started off his career back in 1995 for the ABC Affiliate in Lubbock and has covered many high-profile news events since. In his free time, he enjoys spending time at home, gaming and loves traveling with his wife.

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