Rape Crisis Centers on Budget Cut: ‘We’re Used to Being Poor’

February 20, 2020 Updated: February 24, 2020
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LOS ANGELES⁠—Under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s draft budget for fiscal year 2020–21, rape crisis centers (RCCs) across California will see a major decrease in funding.

The state’s annual general fund is set to contribute $45,000, all of which will go to the Alameda Health System. An additional $1.7 million will come from the State Penalty Fund.

That’s a significant drop from fiscal year 2018–19, when the state contributed $5 million.

The $5 million was a one-time contribution, but even so the regular state funding has been dropping in recent years. From 2013 to 2017, the State Penalty Fund contributed $3.67 million annually. That dropped to $2.31 million in the 2017–18 budget, and now it’s at $1.7 million.

Much of the RCCs’ funding comes from the federal government. But the centers are struggling to provide the services mandated by the state, and state budget cuts aren’t helping as costs rise.

Yet those who work in RCCs remain unsurprised by budget cuts—and undaunted.

“We’re used to being poor, we’re used to funding disappearing,” said Karin Powers, the finance and human resource director for North County Rape Crisis Center (NCRCC) in Santa Barbara County. “We didn’t give big raises, we didn’t create new programs. … We knew it might not be sustainable, so we were smart [about] it. We knew we probably wouldn’t get it next year and we didn’t, so we were glad we hadn’t made big plans.”

Powers, who has been involved in the rape crisis movement since 2003, and who is herself a survivor of sexual assault, writes approximately 12 to 15 grants every year.

“If one falls short, we fill it with another,” she said. “We’re prepared [for budget cuts], but that doesn’t make it OK and it doesn’t make it easy. It’s a battle constantly to find money. That’s my job.”

Powers explained that NCRCC offers a number of important programs that go beyond the counseling and support they provide for victims of sexual assault.

ChildSAFE is a preventative outreach program that is particularly meaningful to her.

Prevention Programs Could Be First to Go

The initiative sends presenters to local schools where they conduct workshops promoting personal safety for first, fourth, seventh, and ninth grade students. The presenters teach children age-appropriate lessons about “Good Touches, Bad Touches, and Confusing Touches,” and instruct them how to “Say No, Get Away and Tell Someone”—the program’s tagline.

“We do the staggered grades so that the lessons are heard time and time again,” she said.

Powers recounted a story about how these preventive efforts have impacted—and even saved—the lives of children suffering from abuse.

One of the presenters, Margaret, was recognized by her server while dining out. The server remembered her from the ChildSAFE program and said, “Thank you. Because of ChildSAFE and what you taught me, you saved my life.”

On another occasion, a ninth grade student told Margaret that if it hadn’t been for her intervention in fourth grade, the abuse she was experiencing may have never stopped.

“The presenters in ChildSAFE get disclosures in the program quite often,” Powers said.

But these types of outreach efforts could be the first programs impacted due to financial pressure.

“That’s what would be affected first when we get big cuts—the prevention program, which is sad because we’re teaching respect, we’re teaching [children] to pay attention to the red flags,” she added.

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of the North County Rape Crisis & Child Protection Center)
Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of the North County Rape Crisis & Child Protection Center)

Bianca Orozco, community education coordinator at Standing Together to End Sexual Assault (STESA), said that federal funds allow them to perform education work, but not prevention.

“Our goal of ending sexual violence is impacted when we do not work to prevent it through our prevention work,” she said. “How can we keep our community from needing direct client services if we do not work to eliminate sexual violence through prevention?”

Orozco told the story of “Jane,” a junior high school student who was experiencing sexual violence at the hands of a family member. When the abuse was reported to law enforcement, a STESA advocate accompanied Jane throughout the investigation in order to offer in-person support at all of her meetings with detectives and the district attorney’s office.

Thus far, the young woman, who Orozco said “is still working on her healing process,” has completed ten sessions of STESA’s Crisis Intervention Counseling services. The goal of the program is to mitigate the onset of rape trauma syndrome and help the negative aftereffects.

Budget

“The psychological aspect of being raped is just part of it,” Assemblymember Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale) told The Epoch Times. “When someone has to go through the prosecution, they have to relive that whole memory and these things that are going on is just really hard to cope with. We have a good system, why we would try to jeopardize it in any way is beyond me.”

Lackey was the only legislator at the first budget committee hearing on the new budget, Jan. 31, who drew attention to the slash in RCC funding.

“I find it really troubling that the administration has chosen to defund rape crisis centers,” he said at the time.

Lackey praised the services RCCs offer: “It gives [victims] an ally and a support person. It kind of puts their mind at rest.”

“When we saw that it actually had been cut to that degree, we became very alarmed,” Lackey said. “I think that the general population would be quite disappointed if they knew that this was part of the proposed budget situation. I find it to be really unsustainable. And no explanation has been given to me yet. We’re not sure exactly what happened.”

“To go from $5 million to $45,000 [from the general fund]? Come on, man. What’s the thinking there?”

A statement released to The Epoch Times from H.D. Palmer, deputy director of the Department of Finance, said the recent budget “proposes the same level of ongoing funding for rape crisis programs—$1.8 million—that the Legislature voted to approve in 2019. Of that amount, $1.7 million is distributed to all 84 rape crisis centers.”

“We would note that the 2019 Budget Act did include an additional $5 million—which was approved on a one-time basis—with equal amounts allocated to rape crisis centers and to family violence prevention centers.”

“Last year’s augmentation was added as one-time funding, and was not intended to be ongoing,” he said.

“We will keep engaging the Governor’s office and legislature to ensure the final budget reflects the needs of our state and our communities,” the statement read. “Prevention work requires a sustained focus, and we are committed to our long-term joint strategies of building awareness, supporting survivors, families and communities—and ultimately achieving our vision of ending sexual and domestic violence in California.”

According to a joint statement released by the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault and California Partnership to End Domestic Violence, 86 percent of women and 53 percent of men report experiencing some form of sexual harassment and/or assault in their lifetime. About 1.6 million women and men experience domestic violence each year.