Guest Opinion: Keep funding for victim services a top priority

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On Wednesday, the justice systems appropriations subcommittee proposed its fiscal 2018 budget, which included a proposed nearly 26 percent decrease in funding for victim services (sexual violence, domestic violence, and shelter services). This represents a total decrease in funding from $6.7 million this year to $5 million in fiscal ’18. As the executive director of the Rape Victim Advocacy Program, this news deeply saddens and angers me and my colleagues.

We have come too far as a society with regards to shining an honest light on sexual violence. We are finally seeing this epidemic as a human-rights issue and improving access to support for all survivors, particularly
here in Iowa. Restructuring of statewide victim services in 2013 was a collaborative effort that would not have been possible without the support of the Iowa Legislature. The effect of the changes has been a 125 percent increase in the number of sexual-assault survivors served in Iowa since 2013. As a result, Iowa now serves as a national model for service delivery to other coalitions across the country. We have come too far — and we have too far yet to go — to take such a drastic step backwards.

RVAP provides vital services and resources for survivors and their loved ones throughout our eight-county service area in southeast Iowa. All of our services are free, confidential, and trauma-informed. Our advocates accompany survivors to hospitals for forensic medical exams following an assault, to court proceedings, and to various other appointments that arise in the aftermath of sexual trauma. Additionally, we provide counseling and therapy and operate the Iowa Sexual Abuse Hotline, which provides 24-hour phone counseling, support, information, and referrals to anyone affected by sexual violence. RVAP’s vision is to create a community free of sexual violence, and toward that end, we facilitate prevention education training at the University of Iowa and in many local secondary schools.

RVAP is one of 24 member programs of the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “This kind of significant cut to victim-service agencies will create immediate and harmful consequences for survivors,” said Beth Barnhill, the executive director of the coalition. “A reduction in state funds greatly limits access to services and options for some of our most vulnerable community members, leaving potentially 10,000 survivors without crisis and advocacy services.”

A past client recently said, “It’s hard to express how grateful I am for RVAP. I don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t seen [its] sign downtown. But I do know it is vital that RVAP and other agencies that serve survivors of sexual violence receive funding to continue their incomparable work.”

The time for action is now. Please join me in contacting our legislators immediately to implore them to protect our communities by securing the safety and well-being of survivors. As outlined above, the proposed cut is $1.7 million. While this is minuscule relative to the total state budget, the services that these dollars help to fund save lives. It is critical that budget decisions in Des Moines are not made on the backs of survivors of violence. Please consider adding your voice to our chorus so that our elected leaders in Des Moines act to ensure that funding for victim services remains a top priority here in Iowa.

— Adam Robinson

RVAP executive director

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