Dawson Place has a new space to call home

EVERETT — Paula Skomski remembers having to retell the story again and again to strangers.

A convicted sex offender had kidnapped Skomski’s daughter off the street while the girl was riding her bicycle. The man held the 12-year-old captive for several hours before dropping her off at an Arlington gas station.

The 1997 abduction was a nightmare, and Skomski was forced to relive the details at each new meeting with police, prosecutors, and counselors at different offices around the county.

“You feel like you have no control over anything,” Skomski said. “It’s overwhelming. You feel victimized again when you have to tell the story over and over again.”

More than a dozen years later Skomski is grateful that things have changed for the community’s most vulnerable victims and their families.

Now there is Dawson Place Child Advocacy Center.

The center offers centralized assistance for physically and sexually abused children. Medical personnel, counselors, advocates, state caseworkers, prosecutors and police are available in the same building to help streamline assistance to children and their families. The center employs child interview specialists along with counselors who specialize in treating abused children.

“We’re here to give kids hope and healing,” said Skomski, now a forensic nurse at the center.

Skomski expects to join county officials today at a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the center’s move to a permanent location in downtown Everett.

For the past four years Dawson Place had been located above a bank in leased space donated by Snohomish County. State and federal money was set aside to purchase the new building on California Street.

The center serves about 900 children. Children and teens receive free medical exams, mental health assessments and counseling. The center also houses detectives and prosecutors who investigate crimes against children.

“Dawson Place doesn’t exist so we can prosecute cases,” Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe said.

Sexual assaults against children often are perpetrated by someone the child knows. That relationship can complicate criminal prosecution. There frequently is no physical evidence that proves an assault occurred. That means the case often rests on the shoulders of a child who often is reluctant to talk about the abuse, especially on the witness stand across from someone they love.

“They tell us they just want the abuse to stop,” Roe said.

By far these cases are the toughest to prove in court, he said.

Making families go from place to place for services only makes matters worse, Skomski said.

“We lose people along the way,” Roe said. “They show up at the hospital. They show up at the police station. Then they quit showing up. They run out of gas.”

Dawson Place aims to coordinate care for children no matter what the outcome is in the legal system. The focus is on the victims and what they need, Skomski said.

After she got her daughter back, Skomski had to find a counselor on her own. Richard Haggerty had stolen her daughter, threatened to kill and rape her and at one point tied her up and left her in some woods. He later told police he intended to rape the girl.

The therapist admitted that she didn’t have any experience counseling children who had survived such trauma. The counseling ended a short time later. Her daughter, now 25, has never talked about what happened to her in the woods.

After all these years Skomski still wonders if her daughter has healed.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; hefley@heraldnet.com.

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