Going through trauma can be an experience that stays with you forever. When it comes to victims of sexual assault, having to come forward and retell what happened can prove very painful and emotionally taxing. It can be even worse for victims who are children.
To support these victims, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office in Chicago, Illinois decided to swear in its first comfort dog–a black Labrador Retriever named Hatty.
Here’s what you should know about Hatty and her role in comforting child victims of sexual assault and violence.
Hatty came to the State’s Attorney’s team to help comfort children victims who’ve gone through crimes such as abuse and sexual assault.
“We’re excited to welcome Hatty to our team where she will provide comfort and peace to victims during one of the most difficult times in their lives,” says Kim Foxx, the Cook County State’s Attorney.
The two-year-old Lab was sworn in during late October. She stood on hind legs and placed her front paw over a law book as an oath was read aloud. Hatty will handle 150 to 200 cases a year, according to the Cook County offices.
According to a press release from the County office, Hatty will assist children and developmentally disabled victims of sexual trauma. She’ll be there for the victims while they testify in court, as well as during interviews with prosecutors and officials.
“Navigating the criminal justice system can be confusing and scary, especially for young people and other victims of sexual assault. Victims are the center of our work, and I know personally that retelling a painful story of abuse can cause trauma all over again,” Foxx stated.
Foxx is the first African American woman to lead the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. It’s the second largest prosecutor’s office in Chicago.
“I can tell you, for years that I carried that trauma with me,” she stated. “So, imagine coming to an institution where you don’t know the people and it’s not just a welcoming place. I want to bring that experience I’ve had to try to figure out how we can lessen that anxiety for others.”
Foxx hopes Hatty will be a calming force for victims during some of the most challenging moments of their lives.
“I just really hope that it makes these children feel more comfortable, and build a quicker rapport and immediate rapport that we as humans, and specialists, and attorneys can’t necessarily build as quickly as Hatty might be able to,” says Stephanie Coelho, a sexual assault victim witness specialist.
Hatty is the first therapy dog hired by the county office and was trained by inmates through a group called Duo Dogs, which is an assistance dog provider and training organization in St. Louis, Missouri.
This beautiful pup will work a human nine-to-five schedule and will appear in court with victims twice a month. Two trained office employees will provide the dog’s housing and care.
In 2016, Illinois passed legislation which permits prosecutors to petition the court to allow a service dog to accompany children or developmentally disabled sexual assault victims while they testify in court.
What do you think of Hatty giving support to victims in need? Do you think other state offices should also rely on dogs to help victims? Then let us know in the comments below!