There is a private place in Cleveland that does little to publicize itself but is used far more frequently than anyone would like.
It is a place of hope — and that is exactly what it is called.
The H.O.P.E. Center in Cleveland serves as the Children’s Advocacy Center for the 10th Judicial District.
“We are an entity that provides services for victims when there are allegations of child sex abuse, some kind of severe physical abuse or [a child] has been a witness to violent crime,” said executive director Treesa Grant.
She said those who come there are accepted only by referrals from law enforcement agencies or the Department of Child Services.
“We are a neutral, independent party that is not an investigator. We’re just a tool for the investigators,” Grant said.
The center’s professional staff does forensic interviews with the youth, using “legally sound, neutral non-leading interviews.”
Grant said the center does everything it can to keep the atmosphere one of neutrality.
“The law enforcement entity involved watches those interviews on a closed-circuit TV and listens to the child’s story. They are not in the room with the child,” she said.
She said attention is paid to the different developmental stages children go through.
“We know through evidence-based research that children who have been through ongoing abuse sometimes have developmental delays as a result of the abuse,” Grant said. “Interviewers adapt their questioning to the child’s level. It is very specialized and very difficult to do.”
A family advocate is also on staff who is “the first person they meet when they come in.”
“She is here to make them comfortable,” Grant said. “She will give them things to read about the center and how to ask questions about the process.”
There is also a sexual assault nurse who works on staff to give exams “if a child’s disclosures lead us to believe they need an exam.”
DNA testing can be done if the proper agencies believe a crime has occurred within 72 hours of arriving at the center.
“We can document everything,” Grant said.
She said the interviewer working with Bradley County has done thousands of them during a 14-year career.
If that number seems large, it is, and statistics show Bradley County has the most of these cases, which is one reason the decision was made to place a center here.
“People do not like to talk about the subject,” Grant said.
The latest numbers show the Bradley County office did 228 forensic interviews — a number that represents almost half of the total in the entire 10th District.
“That’s a normal year for us,” she said and a reason for the local office to have been established since that statistic has been the norm for the 14 years the center has been established.
Grant said there is not really any hard evidence as to what causes these heinous crimes.
“We see a lot of abuse from families of means, and not necessarily where there is poverty and drug use,” she said.
“We’ve been doing this for several years, but did not have the funding to establish an office in Bradley County,” Grant said.
The funds became available when United Way “stepped up, and that’s how we’re here.”
Grant said money is coming from 15 different grants and she is hopeful additional money will come from the state, but money from other sources remain welcome and needed.
“There’s never enough to do everything we do,” she said. “Families are never charged for our services.”
For that reason, a benefit will be held Saturday night, from 7 until 9 p.m., at the Cleveland YMCA.
The event will have various local eateries sharing their food. There will also be music, and candidates will be pressing the flesh after paying a fee that will go to help with CAC expenses.
Admission to the event is $5.