District Attorney establishes ‘comfort rooms’ for victims

28 September 2021

Camden County

BRUNSWICK, Ga. (Sept. 28, 2021) — Kelly Spell knows a thing or two about comforting people in crisis.

After retiring from a 30-year career with the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), Spell joined the District Attorney’s Office for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit, serving in its Appling and Jeff Davis counties’ office in Baxley as a victim advocate.

“When I got close to retirement, I was looking for a second career, because I started with DJJ right after college,” she said. “Working as a victim advocate for the DA’s office was a perfect fit.”

As part of her job, Spell guides the victims and witnesses of crimes through the judicial process – a journey that can often be painful. In the past, the difficult conversations and tender moments were often held in stark conference rooms under harsh fluorescent lights. But not anymore.

Newly minted District Attorney Keith Higgins, who assumed the role in January, has made it a priority to give victims and witnesses a comfortable place in his offices to feel at home and navigate the challenges of the judicial system.

Each office of the District Attorney in the Brunswick Judicial Circuit now has a Victim Advocacy Room—soothing spaces for the DA’s staff to converse with victims and witnesses away from the ringing phones and stern lights of conference rooms and offices.

Spell in Baxley was the first to open her room to victims and witnesses, complete with games and plush animals for children and cozy seating for adults.

“Each office chose a theme for their Victim Advocacy Rooms,” explained Spell. “I chose ‘The Refuge’ and decorated it with beach décor and sea turtles for a number of reasons: One, the life of a sea turtle is very hard. They travel a long way from the time they hatch to adulthood, and it can be a difficult journey. Being a victim of crime can be like that, but we have to remember the ocean is in front of us. Sea turtles don’t rush—they take their time and forge their own path.”

Spell’s sea turtle-themed “Refuge” room is complete with soft, incandescent lighting, a couch, relaxing chairs, toys and games for children, and snacks, much have which has been donated by local service organizations and charities.

“Court can be a very long day, especially for children, so we also have a ‘go-bag’ with things like crayons and coloring books,” said Spell. “I feel really good about it. I’ve been doing this for five years, and I’ve had experiences with some victims in tense and stressful situations. In this room, ‘The Refuge,’ victims can feel protected.”

Jessica Perez, another of the DA’s victim advocates based in the Glynn County office, echoed Spell and said her office’s room–themed “Safe Haven”–will be a place of solitude for victims who may be going through a tumultuous time.

“We’ve never had anything like this before District Attorney Higgins came into the office,” said Perez, who has worked in the DA’s Brunswick office for three years. “I think it’s going to be a major comfort for people. Going to court is scary for a lot of people, especially for families and kids, but this is more like a living room and it’s an easier place to have hard conversations and feel at home.”

Each of the DA’s four offices serving five counties will have a Victim Advocacy Room, all with donations supplied by civic organizations. In addition to “The Safe Haven” in Brunswick and “The Refuge” in Baxley, the Wayne County DA’s office features “The Retreat,” and the Camden County office’s space has been christened “The Sandee Ortega Victim Room,” in honor of Sandee Ortega, who was a victim advocate in the Camden office for many years.

Items for the various rooms were generously donated by The Rotary Club of Brunswick, The Rotary Club of St. Simons Island, The Rotary Club of Jesup, The Rotary Club of Camden, The Rotary Club of the Golden Isles, The Rotary Club of Jekyll Island, The Rotary Club of Kings Bay, The Exchange Club of Brunswick, Georgia PORCH, Troy University and the Golden Isles Republican Women’s Club.

Anyone wishing to make a donation may contact Yolanda Richardson, Director of the Victim-Witness Assistance Program, at 912-554-7229 or yrichardson@pacga.org.

The District Attorney for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit serves Appling, Camden, Glynn, Jeff Davis and Wayne counties.

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Open Records Act Request: Pursuant to O.C.G.A. 50-18-71(b)(2), the Open Records Officer for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office is Cathy Browning. Written requests should be submitted to her via email at cbrowning@pacga.org or by mail to the Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office, Attention: Cathy Browning, 210 E. 4th St., Woodbine, GA 31569.
Media Policy: The Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney aims to scrupulously follow the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct. The office is not ethically allowed to answer many questions posed by reporters, whatever the journalistic merit. The office cannot, for example, discuss an accused party’s criminal history or speculate about the impact of a particular piece of evidence. These rules are in place to ensure a defendant’s rights to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.