FORT WORTH, Texas — What do you picture when you think about an interview room at a police department?
“The traditional model of interviewing a victim is in cold, stark and sterile environment, where the law enforcement sits across the table from the victim and asks what, what, when, where," Tracy Matheson said.
Matheson's 22-year-old daughter, Molly Jane Matheson, was raped and killed in 2017. Tracy Matheson said she started Project Beloved on the one-year anniversary losing her daughter.
"We aim to change the conversation about sexual assault and empower survivors to find their voices," Matheson said.
One of the initiatives Project Beloved works on is the creation of soft interview rooms for law enforcement offices.
“I started researching trauma and its impact in something like the aftermath of a sexual assault, and all the experts have told us it’s significant and it manifests in any number of ways," Matheson said. "It can most definitely make an appearance when a victim is being asked to tell the details of a story they most certainly don’t want to tell and to someone they most likely don’t want to tell it to.”
Matheson said one part of a trauma-informed response is addressing the environment in which a victim is having that initial conversation, so her organization made it a mission to transform as many of those spaces as possible.
“Taking that cold, stark and sterile and transforming it so it is a place that is warm, and inviting and feels comfortable," Matheson said.
Project Beloved provides stylish, comfortable chairs, plush pillows and soft blankets. There are essential oils to make the room smell nice, and softly lit lamps elevate the sense of serenity. The rooms are cozy and quaint. More like a living room space, less like an intimidating white-walled space where you to go be interrogated.
“It makes us more comfortable, and we’re in a position where we can be in space to speak to them on a more conversational level," Fort Worth police detective Jeremy Reinhardt said.
He said the rooms help law enforcement. as well.
“It makes them associate us as people and shows that we’re not just law enforcement. We care," Reinhardt said.
Project Beloved installed a few soft interview rooms for Fort Worth police earlier this year. Room 37 was installed for Dallas police last week.
They've already reached departments in states around the country and are also receiving requests from federal facilities.
“We’re booked through October... November 2022 at this point," Matheson said. "We’ve got a lot of agencies in line waiting.”
Matheson said the reality is clear.
"That it's making an impact. That it matters. It’s making victims feel more comfortable, and it’s taking that initial edge off," Matheson said.
Detective Reinhardt agrees.
"People do open up more," Reinhardt said. "You can see, even just in their body language."
The rooms are for anyone who needs them, but for Matheson, this mission is all about Molly Jane.
"Everything we do has to feel authentic to who Molly was," Matheson said.
Matheson said her daughter was a light. She never got the chance to tell her story or seek justice in a room like the ones made in her honor, but she is in every detail.
"She guides every decision that we make at Project Beloved," Matheson said.
And with each new room, the hope for a clearer path to justice.
"We want to get more evidence, better evidence," Matheson said. "We want to take cases that maybe seem like they weren’t going to be able to go anywhere…maybe we are going to able to make an arrest.”
For all survivors. For Molly.
"Unfortunately, she’s not here to cheer us on an participate in this, but I do believe that she’s cheering us on from heaven," Matheson said.