JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas –
In response to the growing need for services that demand justice for sexual assault survivors, the 902nd Security Forces Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph debuted it’s new "soft interview” room for victims of sexual assault and other violent crimes April 22.
Police departments around Texas and the U.S. are increasingly working to create unique resources that support the victims of these crimes and make it easier to interview them in a safe space.
According to Joe Salinas, the 902nd SFS chief of investigation, the unit already has two standard interview rooms. Both rooms have chairs and tables, a mounted camera, padded walls and a two-way mirror, which meets the law enforcement standard for interrogating suspects and interviewing witnesses.
"However, the standard is not met when it comes time to interview victims of violent crimes, especially when a traumatic event has been experienced, such as domestic violence or sexual assault," Salinas said.
The “soft room” concept was created so victims or witnesses can relax and decompress as they tell their story. This also helps law enforcement gain a better picture of events and hopefully compile enough evidence to make an arrest.
The room features living-room-style chairs, decorative lighting, a rug and artwork. There’s also a camera to record the interview.
"Great consideration is taken when selecting the paint color for the walls, the type of seating, lighting, carpet, decorative pieces, art, blankets, and anything else that may be soothing to the victim,” Salinas said. “All these things are part of a trauma-informed response with the end goal of empowering victims to find their voices and want to share their stories."
The idea for these rooms was created by Tracy Matheson, founder of Project Beloved, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that strives to educate, advocate, and collaborate to change the conversation about sexual assault and empower survivors to find their voices. Matheson’s daughter was a victim of sexual assault and homicide in 2017, which inspired the creation of the nonprofit.
"I initially reached out to Tracy in November 2021 to obtain details about what it would take to develop and install a soft interview room,” Salinas said. “She told us that this was something her organization would love to do for the unit, as we would be her first military installation they accomplished this for."
While becoming more common in law enforcement circles, this room is the first of its kind across the entire Department of Defense.
"We immediately began working through the red tape to ensure we were legally sound on the government side before moving forward,” Salinas added. “Once we received the approval from our commander, we set a date, the furnishings were ordered, and we should be ready to put the soft interview room to use immediately.”