Fundraiser held to save Forensic Health Services: Program serves victims of abuse

DEL MAR, Calif. - Efforts were underway Saturday to save a critical crime fighting tool that is in danger of being cut.

Forensic Health Service is the only program in the North County designated as the first stop for child and adult victims of abuse or molestation.

"It was six years ago but it's still so vivid," said Crystal Harris, who was sexually assaulted repeatedly by her husband and then later forced to pay him alimony. It is a story 10News first exposed years ago.

The center's services were crucial in helping to convict Harris' husband and even prompt changes to legislation.

The Junior League of San Diego hosted "Casino for a Cause" at the Del Mar Marriott Saturday. The fundraising goal was just $2,000, but officials say it surpassed that the minute the event opened its doors.

The center in Escondido provides North County law enforcement a place to take both child and adult victims of abuse and sexual assault.

Tressie Armstrong understands the impact of the center's services.

The principal at Kelly Elementary School in Carlsbad tells 10News her students needed its services after a gunman fired on her playground packed with more than 200 children in October of 2010.

"Whether it's for our children or whether it's for women, that are victims of any kind of crime, is to have a place where they can feel safe with forensic interviewers who are skilled at nurturing and careful with them," said Armstrong.

The center is crucial in gathering evidence for criminal prosecutions and caring for victims like Harris.

"A lot of women don't get justice ... and the ones who are brave enough to even report the crime, obtaining the evidence to get the conviction is crucial," she said.

Harris is a survivor of domestic violence. The Carlsbad mother was sexually assaulted by her own husband and then forced to pay spousal support.

But Harris secretly tape recorded her husband during an attack. She used that evidence with the center's help to convict him.

"I know what it feels like to be in that position," said Harris. "I can't imagine another victim having to be put through any more trauma than they've already been through."

The center is only one of two accredited advocacy centers for forensic interviews in San Diego County, and it costs more than $500,000 a year to run.

On Feb. 13, San Diego County Supervisor Dave Roberts will meet with the Sheriff's Department, the District Attorney's Office and Supervisor Bill Horn's office to discuss and figure out community partnerships as well as more permanent funding sources.

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