Advocacy center driven by truth

By Eric Butler

Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series of United Way agency profiles scheduled for publication each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday through Nov. 21.

The Oasis Children’s Advocacy Center in Clovis is an organization driven by the needs of more than one arm of law enforcement to interview the same child.
Children who are believed to be possible victims of physical or sexual abuse are interviewed by Oasis workers — an interview that is then distributed to the various interested agencies via videotape or DVD.
Though the center is used by police, prosecutors and social workers, Oasis director Hank Baskett said it is not necessarily his goal is to bring the accused to justice.
Rather, it’s to find the truth.
“I’d much rather have someone who commits a crime get away with it than for someone who didn’t commit a crime have to go to jail or live through the embarassment of having their name exposed,” said Baskett, who has been with Oasis since 1994.
“We’re not trying to get erroneous information that might ruin somebody’s life. We look for the truth, we look for validity. We try to match up what the child says with the law enforcement investigation. I go in there and ask the questions that the team wants answered,” Baskett added.
At the end of June, 2003, Baskett and fellow forensic interviewer Laura Lucero had conducted 148 interviews over the period of a year.
The children they interview can be as young as three years old or as old as 18. On occasion, they even interview developmentally disabled adults in their early 20s.
Oasis serves the four-county area of Curry, Roosevelt, De Baca and Quay, or, as Baskett puts it, the region encompassed by the 9th and 10th Judicial Districts.
Lucero says that putting a potentially abused child at ease within the span of a single interview can be a challenge.
“It’s kind of like me building up a rapport (with an adult) and, all of a sudden saying, ‘Well, you don’t know me, but what is your sex life like?’” he said. “You’re gonna say, ‘Hey, I don’t even know you.’
“That’s what these kids are like. We have to build a rapport and they have to trust us. Sometimes these kids don’t even know why they’re there,” Lucero added. “But we don’t force the kids to talk to us. If they don’t know, we don’t pressure them in any way.”