New Jacksonville center expected to help more sexual assault victims

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The process has begun to build a new women’s center meant to be a refuge for local sexual assault victims.

Thanks to a $500,000 donation from former Jacksonville Jaguars owners Wayne and Delores Barr Weaver, the current building on Emerson Street is getting an overhaul.

It doesn’t look like much now, but once complete, Sexual Assault Forensic Exam – or S.A.F.E. Center will be a beauty.

“One of the great things here is we’ll be able to have a lot of different things here, including two exam rooms with two showers in it, our evidence room,” Robin Graber, rape recovery team programs director for Women’s Center of Jacksonville, said.

On Tuesday, we went on a behind-the-scenes tour of the facility. The building itself needs work – but construction will start right away.

“We hope to raise $3 million for the purchase of the building, the rehabilitation of the building and an endowment that we can serve the community for generations to come,” Lisa Everly, president of the center's board of directors, said.

Numbers say the S.A.F.E. Center is needed. Each year, the center serves more than 300 women a year with forensic exams. There’s no current backlog of untested rape kits in the area – but everyone wants to keep it that way. With on-site evidence storage, law enforcement will be able to quickly pick up kits.

“In the last year, we served over 700 survivors just through our advocacy program alone with over 2,000 in our hotline. Those range in different ages, races, gender, everything,” Graber explained.

Victims will be to receive counseling services for up to a year at the new center.

The hope is to open it at the start of 2018.

In addition to their donation, the Weavers are offering a challenge match of $500,000 for the endowment program. The public can get involved and donate at youresafehere.org