DULUTH — Danny Porter knows what it was like trying to prosecute sex crimes before GSAC.
Victims were examined by ER doctors who often times lacked specialized training or equipment, and getting those busy physicians into a courtroom to testify was, to put it gently, a headache. The logistics were a nightmare.
“I didn’t want to go back to that,” said Porter, Gwinnett’s district attorney since 1992.
In May, GSAC — formally the Gwinnett Sexual Assault Center and Children’s Advocacy Center — was notified that its stay at the Duluth building it had occupied since 1987 wouldn’t be extended. Termites and small amounts of asbestos were reportedly found in the facility owned by the city of Duluth, which was opting for demolition.
GSAC would have to relocate — and do so without taking its longstanding rent agreement of $1 per year with it.
As executive director Ann Burdges was in the final negotiations for office space across the street from Gwinnett Medical Center-Duluth, she got a call from Porter. He offered the use of drug forfeiture funds, eventually totalling about $48,000, for the center’s first year of rent.
“It was a tremendous, tremendous surprise,” Burdges said. “And it was also a great testament to the importance of the services that we provide, and the work that we do.”
Now, not quite two months after its July 1 moving date, GSAC is in its new digs among other pink-bricked buildings in a quiet office park. There’s 1,300 additional square feet to provide 24-hour comprehensive services to “victims and families impacted by crimes of sexual assault and child sexual (and) physical abuse.”
The center offers specialized forensic medical examinations for victims, as well as counseling, legal assistance, a crisis line and in-person advocacy. Burdges and other members of GSAC’s staff testify in court to help prosecute offenders. It’s the only such facility in Gwinnett and, all told, served 1,743 victims in 2012.
A new home in such a timely fashion means no interruption of services.
“It’s not perfect but it’s a wonderful space and it certainly helps us to provide services, and gives us some added space that we were grateful to have,” Burdges said. ” … It’s a new space, new opportunities, new abilities, so it’s all good. We’re very fortunate.”
GSAC staff played a role in designing its original space, so its new location (originally a pretty standard medical office) is taking some adjustment. That said, it’s newer, nicer and bigger — there’s an actual conference room for training; an “office” for law enforcement to make calls, send faxes and fill out paperwork; and a break room bigger than a closet. Interview and monitoring rooms for child victims are more appropriate (children feel more comfortable in smaller spaces, Burdges said).
While a lot of the center’s operating costs — anywhere from $600,000 to $800,000 per year — are covered by federal and state grants, a capital fundraising campaign is in the works to secure rent in years to come and possibly buy its new office.
Future funds from the DA’s office aren’t out of the realm of possibility, but it’s a subject that hasn’t been broached.
New home for the Gwinnett Sexual Assault Center
After 26 years the Gwinnett Sexual Assault Center and Children's Advocacy Center has relocated in Duluth.
“I couldn’t even go there,” Burdges said. “There’s been no conversation about that at all. We are continuing with our own efforts to always secure our own funding streams. If (Porter) would like to, we’re always open. But no conversations, no guarantees.”
Porter echoed the sentiment.
“I’m perfectly willing to sit on the sidelines or even help them raise money,” he said. “We’ll just jump off that bridge when we get to it.”