For a few hours earlier this month, 15 girls who have been exposed to violence in Charleston had a chance to be pampered.
With their nails freshly painted and their hair fashioned in ponytails and braids, girls in elementary and middle school posed for runway-style photos.
Victim advocates with the Charleston Police Department organized the outing with one main goal in mind: to remind these girls the trauma they have suffered or witnessed — such as domestic violence, sexual abuse, assault and exposure to drug use — doesn't define them.
"We want to let little girls know that they are more than their circumstances and they can overcome any negative trauma or incident," said Catrice Smalls, victim advocate program coordinator for the police department.
The victim services program within the agency's Family Violence Unit provides resources such as emotional support, crisis intervention, safety planning and assistance navigating criminal court hearings to people impacted by crime. Advocates helped 175 families in 2017.
They watch for children who may be affected by violence, accompanying officers to scenes where children are likely to be present, such as drug raids and homicides.
A mental health worker embedded with the department offers counseling, and advocates can refer children to the Dee Norton Child Advocacy Center.
Children can act out in different ways when they don't learn to cope after experiencing trauma, child victim advocate Ashley Standafer said. Some children become withdrawn, while others are talkative. Some are hyper-sensitive.
Advocates aim to break the cycle of violence early on. That can mean talking to a child who witnessed his or her mother being physically abused, to let them know that domestic violence is not normal acceptable behavior.
On May 5, victim advocates devoted their attention to girls ages 8 to 12 who attended the police department's "Delicate Blossom Spring Fling" event at The Paul Mitchell Beauty School near Tanger Outlets.
The department launched the event last year in an attempt to reach girls at a time when they're beginning to differentiate between positive and negative behavior, which Smalls said starts around age 8. At age 12, they're entering the difficult transition from childhood to their teenage years.
Advocates are developing a similar event tailored to boys.
Girls worked on crafts and had their hair and nails done by students at the beauty school. Sandy Tecklenburg, Mayor John Tecklenburg's wife, dropped by.
Advocates want victims, especially children, to know they aren't alone.
"All of us are trying to show them that there are positive people in the neighborhood, that there are people who care about them," Standafer said.