VMI Receives Soft Interview Room from Project Beloved

Tracy Matheson, founder of Project Beloved, and her sister, Becky Halterman, with Michael L. Marshall, VMI chief of police

Tracy Matheson, founder of Project Beloved, and her sister, Becky Halterman, receive accolades from Michael L. Marshall, VMI chief of police, for their design of the soft interview room. -VMI Photo by Kelly Nye.

LEXINGTON, Va., June 14, 2022—Being the victim of a violent crime is traumatic and harrowing. The cold, stark, sterile environment of a police department interview room, where the victim must discuss painful details of the crime, should not add to that stress. Thanks to Project Beloved, a nonprofit organization based in Texas, the police building at Virginia Military Institute now has a soft interview room that can be used by departments throughout the Lexington-Rockbridge community, decorated with stylish, comfortable chairs, soft blankets, essential oils, and softly lit lamps to elevate the sense of serenity. The unveiling of the room took place Tuesday, June 14. In attendance were representatives from VMI police, VMI Title IX office, Lexington City police, Rockbridge County Sheriff’s department and Project Horizon, a local organization that works with victims of domestic and sexual violence.

Project Beloved is the brainchild of Tracy Matheson, whose 22-year-old daughter, Molly Jane, was raped and killed in 2017 in Fort Worth, Texas. Matheson started Project Beloved on the one-year anniversary of losing her daughter. "We aim to change the conversation about sexual assault and empower survivors to find their voices," Matheson said. “I researched trauma and its impact in the aftermath of sexual assault. It manifests in many ways, and can make an appearance when a victim is being asked to tell the details of a painful story.”

Trauma-informed care is an approach that engages victims in ways that recognize the presence of trauma, the symptoms, and the role it plays in  their daily lives. Matheson said one way to provide a trauma-informed response (one that is supportive and compassionate) 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. “We take that cold, stark and sterile room, and transform it into a place that is warm, inviting, and comfortable," Matheson said. 

The photography art that hangs on the walls of the soft interview room adds an additional dimension to the story. The colorful floral photographs were taken by Megan Getrum, a young woman and amateur photographer, who was raped and murdered five days after Molly, by the same perpetrator. Matheson met Getrum’s family at a hearing following the crimes and established a relationship. Matheson suggested the rooms be decorated with Getrum’s art, and her family wholeheartedly agreed. 

Project Beloved has installed soft interview rooms for law enforcement agencies around the country.  "The rooms are making an impact. Victims feel more comfortable, and it’s taking that initial edge off," Matheson said. 

The soft interview room at VMI is the 49th in the country, the third in Virginia, and the first on a Virginia college campus. While the room is on VMI’s post, it is available to any law enforcement agency in the area that needs it.

VMI chief of police, Michael L. Marshall learned about Project Beloved and the soft interview rooms from the Chief of Police Association. He and Capt. David T. Henson discussed the benefits of having a soft interview room for cadets, faculty, staff, and visitors on post who may suffer trauma, and how the commonwealth’s victim witness coordinator, surrounding law enforcement jurisdictions, as well as the inspector general/Title IX coordinator on post, could all benefit from utilizing the room. Henson reached out to Matheson last year to begin the process of acquiring a room.

“VMI administration understands the importance of this significant initiative and has demonstrated a strong desire to assist with whatever was needed to bring this project to fruition on post,” said Marshall. “This is a positive change, how we in law enforcement can support our survivors moving forward after suffering from a traumatic experience. Capt. Henson of the VMI Police Department launched this project from the onset and has guided it through completion.”

In addition to providing soft interview rooms, Project Beloved provides “Beloved Bundles.”  “When a survivor goes to the hospital to have a forensic exam, many times their clothes and belongings are seized as evidence by law enforcement. The victim has nothing to wear home from the hospital. A ‘Beloved Bundle’ includes clothing, hygiene products, and other necessary items so that the survivor can leave with dignity and knows that someone cares,” said Matheson.

Project Beloved has partnered with the University of Arkansas and has established the Molly Jane Matheson Memorial Scholarship in social work. Molly planned to be a social worker and hoped to work with troubled youth. The scholarship is rewarded annually to two students, in the amount of $2,200 each, in honor of Molly’s 22 years.

For more information on Project Beloved, or to make a donation, visit the Project Beloved website.

- VMI -

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