ON the ground floor of the Ballarat Police Station complex, there is a room like no other in the station.

Soft toys spill out of boxes onto the floor, large colourful Lego blocks are stacked not-so-neatly on shelves and Looney Tunes posters cover every single wall.

The aesthetics shouldn’t fool – this is the most important room of the entire police complex.

It forms part of the Ballarat Sex Offence and Child Abuse Investigation Team office, or SOCIT – a group of detectives committed to investigating the most heinous crimes imaginable.

Children as young as three are brought inside this office to explain how an adult, often someone they know, abused them physically, sexually or emotionally.

Head of Ballarat’s SOCIT, Detective Senior Sergeant Tim Argall, said child sexual abuse was often the precursor to a lifetime of suffering.

He said the crimes investigated by his 13-member team were “pretty damn close” to the worst imaginable.

“When there’s a homicide or something like that, the family live with the death of their loved one forever,” he said. “But here, the victims live it for the rest of their lives, the families lives with it for the rest of their lives – you see such a ripple effect in the community from sexual abuse.”

As part of the SOCIT model, victims speak with the same detectives from the first report right through to the court process.

Detective Senior Sergeant Argall said his team did everything it could to prosecute some of “the most cunning and manipulative” offenders around.

“They’re willing to put months and years into the grooming process, to win the trust of the children and win the trust of the parents and carers,” he said.

“They’ll do that a long time before they try to sexualise the relationship.”

TOUGH TASK: Tim Argall in the SOCIT interview room. PHOTO: KATE HEALY.

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