The Wausau Police Department in March hired a therapist to help victims of crimes, and already it’s paying off. They hope it’s an idea that spreads.
Kristen Seidler has a small punching bag and a zen sand garden on her desk in the basement of the Wausau Police Department. They’re two different ends of the spectrum on therapeutic devices. Adults and children alike gravitate toward the speed-bag style punching bag that sits on a spring attached to her desk, Seidler says. Both objects are useful to the people who step into her office, who share one thing in common: They’re all victims of crimes.
Using grant money from the state Department of Justice, the Wausau Police Department hired Seidler as a therapist last March to help victims of any crime. The service is paired with a new community resources officer committed to victims of crimes. It’s a groundbreaking program, and most likely the only one like it in the state and possibly in the country, Seidler says.
And people are taking advantage of it.
Seidler treats 15 to 25 people at the Wausau Police Department at 515 Grand Ave. She also meets with victims at places such as The Women’s Community or children at their school. “That way they don’t have to miss core classes,” Seidler says. On-site calls also help make people more comfortable with therapy; some victims might feel uncomfortable at the police department or worry they’ll run into the perpetrator there.
That’s important because while nearly all the parents or guardians of children referred to Seidler take up the offer, only about 40% of adult victims take advantage of the free counseling. Some say they don’t need it; some worry about getting in trouble themselves. But all therapy sessions are confidential, Seidler says. “Some people I can tell them until I’m blue in the face that everything said here stays here, but the fear can keep them from following through.”
Funding comes from a Victims of Crime Act Grant from the state Department of Justice. The police department was awarded $186,436 for the 2017-2018 fiscal year for a therapist and community resource officer.
The therapy service has been a great resource for victims seen at The Women’s Community, says its executive director Jane Graham Jennings.
So far, roughly 70% of referrals to Seidler’s office, which can come from police, social services or The Women’s Community, are for victims of domestic abuse. Seidler says most people are surprised to learn just how much domestic abuse occurs in Marathon County; even she was surprised when she took the job.
Jennings says having Seidler has been a big help. “Therapy is beneficial to a lot of people, but they can’t always afford it.”
There are many examples of how the program is helping victims of crimes, even those not yet reported. Seidler shared one example where a victim of domestic abuse came in for counseling, and decided to report the sexual assaults she was going through. Between Seidler and talking with the community resource officer, the woman learned she was being manipulated to believe she would also get in trouble if she reported the crime. She later got her own apartment and was able to escape a dangerous situation.
The therapy is free for any victim of a crime, Seidler says, and doesn’t necessarily have a time or session limit. But those needing long-term or more extensive mental health treatment can be referred to the appropriate provider.
The program isn’t a state model, but officials are hoping it’s catching on. Research shows few victims of crimes will seek therapy on their own. In light of that, getting nearly half of crime victims to talk to a therapist is a drastic improvement.