Monday, December 5, 2011

Advocacy for Victims In Peril

I awoke this morning to this news on my facebook feed:

Justice Department officials informed service providers around the state this month it plans to cut grants from its Sexual Assault Victim Services program by 42.5 percent this year.

My wife has spent time as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE). A SANE's job is to collect evidence in cases of sexual assault. You've seen the end product on CSI episodes - the rape kit. She's there to begin the official record for use in a court of law. Victims have a choice as to how far they want to proceed in this examination. They can choose to skip the exam, or they can choose to have the SANE collect as much evidence as possible. They can choose to prosecute, or simply seek therapy. How does a victim make an informed, rational decision in the hours after an assault, sitting in a hospital room?

On hand in each case is an advocate. The advocate is a trained volunteer who works with the victim to begin the healing process. Sometimes the advocate spends time teaching the victim about her rights in court. Sometimes she helps the victim navigate the bureaucracy in seeking further psychological help. Other times she just listens.

These advocates are not paid, but the organization that runs the advocacy program does have a paid coordinator and a skeleton crew of staff. They run as lean as they can, and the volunteers are to be commended for their community service. If you ask me, there ought to be more dollars committed to this type of advocacy. Nothing can change the fact that a terrible crime has been committed, but a loving community can go a long way toward recovery. Sometimes all it takes is one positive face. Advocates know this - that's why they volunteer.

WCASA is the organization in Wisconsin that works with social services, law enforcement, and the medical community to aid victims of sexual assault. The article quotes their interim director:
"These are disastrous cuts," Pennie Meyers, interim executive director of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said in a statement. "(The cuts) will serious imperil our members' ability to meet the needs of sexual assault survivors."
Thankfully the cuts have not passed all the way through committee.

The cuts aren't final yet. The Department of Administration must approve them. Then it must submit them to the Legislature's finance committee, which would automatically approve them unless a committee member objects. That would prompt a hearing.

Lena Taylor and Robert Jauch, both members of the fab 14, are on the committee. This means there will be at least one public hearing. I'll be keeping close tabs on this issue as it moves its way through the process. I hope you will, too.

An engaged citizenry can provide bad legislation a quick death. This is about more than just a specific issue, though. I'd like to think I could send someone to Madison that would have the common sense to at least leave this program alone. In a perfect world, we would increase funding for victim advocacy. I'm looking forward to turning over the senate. I'm really looking forward to taking the governor's office back. As bad as things like this seem, they also serve as fuel for us as we brave the cold. Each signature adds forcefulness to our voice. Keep volunteering! Keep fighting! Wisconsin will be ours!