North Texas Daily

Project Beloved aims to create comfortable atmosphere for assault survivors

Project Beloved aims to create comfortable atmosphere for assault survivors

Project Beloved aims to create comfortable atmosphere for assault survivors
October 09
12:00 2020

Content warning: This article contains language and content related to sexual assault, rape, murder and domestic violence. Reader discretion is advised. 

The university police department received a makeover in the form of a new “soft” interview room for victims of family violence and sexual assault from Tracy Matheson and her nonprofit organization Project Beloved

The refurnished room now sports soft swivel chairs, home decor and walls painted in tones meant to calm. The installation includes a lamp and a diffuser to create a space where survivors can feel physically and emotionally safe. 

“[We] create this atmosphere that is just not what you’re expecting when you walk into a police station,” Matheson said.

Project Beloved, founded in 2018, is based in Fort Worth but works with police stations and survivors across the country. This is the second soft interview room installed by the organization on a college campus with the first being University of Louisiana at Lafayette. There are plans to bring the third to Angelo State University.

“I love that the colleges are responding and wanting to provide a trauma-informed space,” Matheson said.

Project Beloved focuses on the integral role soft interview rooms play in trauma-informed care, a practice that takes the body’s biological response to trauma into consideration, according to Project Beloved’s website.

Detective Gerald Shepherd of the university’s criminal investigations division wanted to bring Project Beloved to campus. He heard about the organization through a specialized Sexual Assault Family Violence Investigator Course held by Denton County Friends of the Family in January. 

“You never know the environment that somebody comes out of,” Shepherd said. “When people feel comfortable in a different [interview] room, they’re like ‘Okay, I can talk about this.’”  

The university police department already had a soft interview room, but the furniture and decor were outdated, Shepherd said.

“If someone is in a traumatic experience and [the atmosphere] is cleaner and nicer, it puts you in a more relaxed mood,” Shepherd said when asked how the new room will benefit the department. “Hopefully, when you’re getting ready to talk to an investigator, you see them more as a person because you’re in a more personal and loving space.”

There were 35 documented cases of rape on campus from 2016 to 2018, according to the university’s 2019-2020 Annual Security & Fire Safety report. Police Captain Jeremy Polk told the North Texas Daily he believes being on a university campus provides more resources to survivors. In addition to the soft interview room, the university offers Survivor Advocate and counseling services.

“Anything that we can do that provides a nicer, safer, warmer atmosphere for having those kinds of conversations is a win-win,” Polk said.

The services provided by Project Beloved are free. Matheson has “a lot of various people who step in here and there and help out along the way”. While Project Beloved is a 2019 recipient of a Bank of America Employee Grant, the organization runs on funding from donors across the country. 

The soft interview rooms are furnished mostly with pieces from West Elm and Target. The wrapped canvas photographs that adorn the walls come from the late Megan Getrum, a Plano resident. 

Getrum, 36, was raped and killed in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex in 2017. With the permission of Getrum’s family, the artwork—which is mostly nature scenes— is used to complete Project Beloved’s soft interview rooms.

“It’s a great way to weave her story into our story,” Matheson said. “It kind of is the finishing touch. The rooms are pretty by themselves but when you add the art it’s […] really amazing.”    

Featured Image: President and founder of Project Beloved, Tracy Matheson, and Police Chief Ed Reynolds sit in the finished “soft” interview room at the UNT police station. Image by Quincy Palmer

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Ileana Garnand

Ileana Garnand

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