New forensic exam center provides help to sexual assault survivors

Ribbon-cutting held for new SAFE Center in Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – One out of every six women in Florida has been raped, according to the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence.

Now, local survivors of sexual assault have a new forensic exam center where they can go for help.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Tuesday morning to unveil what's called the Sexual Assault Forensic Exam (SAFE) Center.

The state-of-the-art SAFE Center on Emerson Street near Jacksonville's South Metro area serves as a safe haven for women who are victims of sexual assault. It also provides women with a new resource at a critical time. 

"They will have a place to come to give them courage and support to continue on," Delores Weaver said at the ceremony.

Delores and Wayne Weaver donated $1 million of their own money to the $3 million project.

The new SAFE Center has two forensic exam rooms, several counseling offices and evidence storage areas.

It's not only a place for victims to go to immediately after a sexual assault, it's also a place for police to begin gathering the DNA evidence needed to put a woman's attacker behind bars.  

"The Women's Center is a great partner for us," Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said. "They do things that we can't do. We can't build the cases we want to build to take the perpetrators off the street." 

Northeast Florida was facing a critical shortage of space to assist sexual assault survivors. The center helps to solve that problem, while giving women the support they need to start to heal. 

"Every detail has been thought of, and it's amazing to see it come to fruition," said Sharon Scott, with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Special Assault Unit. "This is long overdue."

Last year, the Women's Center of Jacksonville provided 339 sexual assault victims with forensic exams, or “rape kits.”

In the last several months, three cold cases have been solved as the result of a DNA match from a rape kit that was tested after a statewide backlog. On Wednesday, Attorney General Pam Bondi announced that 6,865 backlogged kits have been tested so far.

The SAFE Center hopes to open its doors in May.

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