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Three programs for sexual and domestic violence survivors defunded

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The Iowa State Capitol. — photo by Lauren Shotwell

Three programs have been defunded among other cuts to services for individuals who have experienced sexual and domestic violence following the Iowa Legislature’s decision to decrease funding for victim services by 26 percent. Additional funding cuts at the federal level also contributed to the shortfall.

The three services defunded are the 24/7 Iowa Sexual Abuse Hotline, run by the Rape Victim Advocacy Program (RVAP); Transformative Healing, which specializes in serving LGBTQIA+ survivors; and IowaARCh, a program under Monsoon United Asian Women of Iowa that provides an online chatline for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, stalking and sex trafficking.

“What the legislators said then was they didn’t project those cuts to negatively impact services,” Adam Robinson, executive director of RVAP, said of Iowa legislators’ decision to cut funding. “But now, to say that services aren’t going to be impacted is not accurate. With such a big cut in budget so quickly it is challenging, but we’re looking to figure out what options we’ve got to try to sustain some level of hotline support in the state.”

Iowa Sexual Abuse Hotline

The Iowa Sexual Abuse Hotline, which will be defunded as of Oct. 1, currently provides 24-hour confidential counseling and support for anyone impacted by sexual violence, either directly or indirectly. The hotline gives callers information to help connect them with local services and provides roll-over services to other Iowa centers, answering their hotlines during non-business hours, weekends and holidays.

Calls to the hotline increased by 647 percent in the past two years, according to an RVAP press release, and the hotline is expected to receive almost 4,000 calls this fiscal year.

Robinson said that although other hotlines exist in the state, they do not focus solely on sexual violence survivors, and part of the goal of dividing up services was to allow programs to focus on the specialized needs of each group.

“What we know is that when victim services are combined under one source, historically sexual violence survivors are underserved,” he said. “Not by lack of care or intention, but the types of needs that exist for survivors of sexual violence compared to domestic violence, while there is a lot of overlap, there are also some very specific needs.”

Although Robinson said the program knew the cut would put services at risk, it wasn’t until last week that they learned the hotline would be defunded, and they are still unsure what the future will hold. He said he was grateful for all the work the community has done.

“It is lifesaving work,” Robinson said. “Lives are changed. The culture is changing. For the survivors that have utilized the hotline: Their voices continue to matter. And we will do all we can to continue to fill any need that they have.”

RVAP posted a request for donations on its Facebook page along with the announcement of the defunding. The organization is also hosting a Race to Zero virtual 5K throughout the month of June to raise awareness and funding for its programs.

People took to the streets in Iowa City for a “Take Back the Night” event during Sexual Assault Activism Month in 2016. — photo by Emma Kraus

IowaARCh

IowaARCh, the online chatline, has only been operating for 18 months, but has seen increased demand for its services, with a 40 percent increase in usage in 2017 compared to last year.

“These cuts nip the chat program in the bud just as it has begun to show its potential,” Alexandra Nassif, Monsoon’s statewide chatline services coordinator, said in an email to Little Village.

Nassif said the chatline, which is staffed by a diverse range of people, also reaches survivors that might not feel comfortable accessing mainstream services, including people of color, people under the age of 26 and people who identify as male or non-binary.

“We have received inquiries from many other organizations around the country hoping to learn from our model, and this cut will limit Iowa’s ability to be a leader in bringing survivor services into the 21st century,” she said.

The program plans to use volunteer advocates after June 30 to continue providing services while seeking other sources of grant funding to make the program sustainable, Nassif said. Individuals interested in volunteering can contact her at alexandranassif@muawi.org.

Transformative Healing

Transformative Healing, which is one of seven culturally specific advocacy organizations in Iowa, has been around for nearly three years. Kimberly Andresen-Reed, the organization’s executive director, said that many of their clients have tried unsuccessfully to access other services before turning to Transformative Healing. The group provides services, such as picking clients up for appointments, that help to take down barriers.

“We want to make sure that they are able to have somebody that is safe to go to,” Andresen-Reed said. “We don’t want to just leave and compromise the safety of survivors that we’ve been working with.”

She said defunding Transformative Healing, along with the hotline and IowaARCh, is taking a step backwards. However, the program will attempt to carry on and is holding fundraising efforts — including a phonathon on Thursday — and additional events throughout June.

“We are really digging in and trying to make it work,” Andresen-Reed said.

Crime Victim Assistance Division

The programs fall under the umbrella of the Crime Victim Assistance Division in the Iowa Attorney General’s Office which administers funding for programs providing services to crime victims across the state. The division takes in funding from four federal and two state funding streams. With the cut of more than $1.7 million dollars to the state funds and an additional decrease of about $4 million in federal funds, the division estimates it will need to cut between $2.8 and $3 million from grant awards beginning in July.

“My staff spent almost a week, combing through project budgets and thoughtfully processing different ways to administer these cuts fairly, but also with the least harm for victims,” Janelle Melohn, director of the Crime Victim Assistance Division, said in an email to Little Village.

Melohn said in the past they have done across-the-board cuts, but decided that with a budget loss this large it would hit Iowa’s nine remaining domestic violence shelters too hard and would cut too many jobs. Instead, they went line by line to eliminate items from program budgets that wouldn’t affect staff or services — although even with those cuts, she said some staff did need to be cut, including about 10 full time positions.

“The reality is, funding cuts have consequences and tough decisions had to be made,” Melohn wrote. “No one wants to be in this position, and we hope the state legislature will understand the need for adequate funding for these services in future years.”

In the end, the following cuts were made:

  • Monsoon lost its contract to provide the statewide chatline, IowaARCh, although it continues to receive grant awards for other services.
  • The Iowa Sexual Abuse Hotline will be merged with the domestic abuse hotline.
  • The Transformative Healing program will be cut.
  • A $1 million one-time award to upgrade the Iowa victim notification system will be canceled. It would have added court notifications for victims and a hub for information about services providers.
  • Smaller cuts will also be made within the Van Buren County Attorney’s Office, Iowa Victim Assistance Academy and Iowa Department of Public Health.

Since the final funding numbers from the federal government have not yet come through, Melohn said the exact amount of the cuts is not yet known, but she said the office was able to make an educated guess and should have finalized numbers in about a month.

“The Attorney General’s Office is still trying to figure it out — how the funding is going to play out at the state level,” Robinson, of RVAP, said. “They are in a very difficult spot. That is just the reality.”

The cuts come roughly three years after an effort to restructure the way the state provides these services, which led to a move toward a regional service model and divided Iowa’s services for domestic abuse survivors, sexual abuse survivors and survivors of homicide. The legislature also increased state appropriations by about $4 million at that time.

The changes were successful, advocates say, leading to an increase in the number of individuals who received services, according to data from the Crime Victim Assistance Division. From fiscal year 2013 to 2016, the number of domestic abuse survivors who received services increased by 45 percent, while the number of sexual assault survivors who received services increased by 126 percent.


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