Cris Peterson remembers the time she walked into a police interview room and saw a roll of toilet paper instead of a box of tissues.
For Peterson, vice president of the Newport Beach branch of the Zonta International service organization, the toilet paper became a symbol of how unwelcoming the environment can be for victims of domestic abuse or human trafficking when they're talking to investigators.
"They often feel victimized again," she said.
Peterson and others from the Zonta Club of Newport Harbor have started creating "soft rooms" at police departments in Orange County by transforming stark interview spaces into inviting settings intended to put victims at ease.
They said they have installed such rooms in Westminster and Santa Ana, and on Wednesday, Peterson and five volunteers redecorated and refurnished one of three tiny interview rooms at the Costa Mesa Police Department.
"I'm excited," said Costa Mesa Det. Sgt. Stephanie Selinske.
The department has been without a soft room since a remodel years ago, she said.
According to Selinske, a more welcoming location can help victims open up to investigators or at least give them comfort during a tough time.
"Instead of sterility, it relaxes the victim," said Mary Harper, a volunteer who snipped tags off stuffed rabbits that ended up in a basket for children passing through the Police Department.
The experience has trained volunteers in what they need to quickly remake a room, Peterson said.
"We always add a rug because it ties the room together," she said.
A few other tricks make a tiny room feel more homey. Comfortable upholstered chairs are a must. Art on the gray walls also helps.
And one final rule: no toilet paper.