OPINION | Somewhere to turn

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I understand the harm done when we fail to properly fund services for sex crime victims, and what it will mean for others who are raped. I was raped at age 15; before resources were widely available to help rape victims navigate their choices related to the law and recovery.

After I was raped, I reached out to three different types of helping professionals. All of them failed to properly assess the cause of my trauma. All of them assumed that because the person I was trying to communicate as being my rapist was my boyfriend and I used the word unwanted instead of raped, that I was simply regretting becoming sexually active. These well meaning professionals didn’t have the training to recognize that I might be a rape survivor, and to ask the right questions. Even if they realized that I had been raped, they certainly wouldn’t have been able to help me see my rapist held accountable because at the time, rapists were described as strangers. Boyfriends might go too far, too fast, but they were never rapists.

In 1974, the research did not exist and these resources were not adequate. In the last few decades, thankfully, the scope of the problem has been considerably more researched.

I have since volunteered for nine years on a local rape crisis line and know what the current services available mean to those who have been raped, and how these services help law enforcement be more effective in responding to sexual violence in our communities. I also know that funding these services and adding funding for primary prevention ultimately will save more money than these programs cost. In fact, a Minnesota Department of Health study issued in 2007 found that the economic cost of sexual violence in Minnesota was $8 billion in 2005.

Minnesota is currently developing the 2010-2011 state budget. As of now, the governor’s proposed budget contains no funding for primary prevention, and decreases the grants to local victim service agencies from $1.4 to $1.2 million. In addition, local victim service agencies also face cuts in funding from the county level, compounding their funding crisis.

Last year in Olmsted County, the volunteer coordinator position was cut from the budget. This had a direct affect on the support and training for volunteers who make the local rape crisis line available 24/7. Volunteers are a critical resource that must be trained, developed and supported. Victim services agencies around the state and around the country can only provide continuous emergency services because of thousands of hours which are donated by volunteers. The value provided by the volunteer coordinator position in Olmsted County is the donation of time from over 40 volunteers who agree to set aside their nights, their weekends, and even their holidays, so they can answer a crisis phone call, go to the hospital, or to the law enforcement center.

Minnesota has been — and should remain — a leader in the area of responding to sexual violence. This means that we need to continue funding programs that work and find funding to create new initiatives. For example, the Minnesota Department of Health now has a plan for how to create pilot prevention programs, which can be a model for potential programs around the state and the nation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no national model for the primary prevention of sexual violence. This can, and must, change. But to do so requires a willingness to pay for results.

Minnesotans need to speak up to preserve funding for these programs. We must make a difference now so that fewer people will have to understand what it’s like to experience rape.
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Chester is a volunteer victim advocate in Olmsted County’s Office of Victim Services department.
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Copyright © 2009 by the Minnesota Editorial Forum. 4/09

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