State money helps sexual assault victims

Katherine Schaeffer

From the controversy surrounding the Steubenville rape case to the public outcry when three young women escaped years of captivity on Cleveland’s west side, Ohio became the center of national dialogue about sexual assault education and prevention last year.

The latest legislation to emerge from the discussion, House Bill 108, went into effect last month. The bill established the Rape Crisis Program Trust Fund, which will help fund the 25 rape crisis centers in Ohio. The bill requires sex offenders to pay a one-time $100 fee, which will help support the Trust Fund.

Townhall II, Kent’s full-service rape crisis center, received $36,789 grant as part of a $1 million program to help fund Ohio’s Rape Crisis Program Trust Fund. Townhall II, which received grant money at the beginning of February, has already begun allocating funds to expand its services.

Katie Hanna, executive director for the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, said that with only 27 rape crisis centers serving Ohio’s 88 counties, many centers find themselves underfunded and understaffed.

“Prior to the Rape Crisis Center Trust Fund, rape crisis centers had not received any baseline state funding to provide services to survivors of sexual assault,” Hanna said. “Without consistent funding, we jeopardize the well-being of survivors in our community.”

Hanna said lack of state funding forces rape crisis centers to depend heavily on volunteers. Oftentimes centers that can’t recruit enough volunteers shut down as a result.

“We believe the Rape Crisis Center Trust Fund will have a significant impact on survivors and communities across Ohio,” Hanna said. “Many survivors across Ohio do not have access to a rape crisis advocate, and programs cannot meet the current demand.

“We conducted a needs and resources assessment of programs in November 2013, and 100 percent of respondents are serving as many or more survivors now compared to a year ago, while over half of respondents had experienced a decrease in funding from a year ago.”

As Portage County’s only rape crisis center, Townhall II’s resources are often stretched thin. The center, which employs two full-time workers and about 60 volunteers, offers survivor support groups, a 24-hour help line, advocacy and counseling among other services.

Cindy Bloom, Townhall II’s Victim Prevention and Outreach Services coordinator, said the center’s funding comes in the form of government grants and fundraisers. Before the Rape Crisis Trust Fund grant, the center could only afford to hire two employees, and one of them was hired in a part-time capacity.

“I’ve been really proud that we’ve been able to keep all of our services going, but it has also been really killing us, because we’re spread very thin,” Bloom said. “But it’s going to be awesome to have the help that we need and be able to really expand upon our services, too.”

Bloom said Townhall II has already begun using the grant to expand its services, promoting its part-time employee to full-time. The center plans to use the grant to hire an additional part-time staff member, update its computers and expand its offices into the Townhall II building’s upstairs space, which is currently used for storage.

Hanna said she believes the grant will help reduce sexual violence in Ohio, as rape crisis centers continue to maintain the wide variety of services they offer, particularly advocacy and prevention awareness.

“Rape crisis centers provide a place for hope, healing and support,” Hanna said. “When survivors have advocates, they are more likely to report their crimes to the police, and get connected with support to reduce long-term health impacts associated with the crime.

“Support groups offered at rape crisis centers can connect survivors with each other, to know that they are not alone and it wasn’t their fault, and rape prevention education programs and collaborations with schools can educate our youth about healthy relationships and how to be active bystanders to step in and prevent violence. With heightened awareness of sexual violence comes change.”

Contact Katherine Schaeffer at [email protected]