Rape crisis center’s services spared from governor’s budget cuts

By Renee Chacko

State rape crisis centers were spared from the governor’s budget cuts last week, much to the relief of 33 centers in Illinois. The centers’ staff had rallied against the cuts, arguing they would force the end of walk-in facilities, educational programs and 24-hour hotlines. For the Champaign County crisis center, the news is another victory in the budget and funding battle.

“We are grateful that the cuts were taken off,” said Jennifer Scott, advocacy coordinator for the Champaign County center. “Our services would not have been able to be continued if these cuts were made.”

The center, started by A Woman’s Fund, Inc. more than 30 years ago, serves Champaign, Ford, Piatt and Douglass counties. Services include 24-hour hotline assistance and educational programs for elementary and junior high schools in the area.

“The center provides services that other places can’t provide,” Scott said. “We provide free and confidential care and cater to the individual’s needs.”

During the last fiscal year Rape Crisis Services provided 645 hours of free counseling to child and adult victims of sexual assault and abuse, as well as to their families and friends. The local 24-hour hotline fielded 161 crisis counseling calls. Center staff spent nearly 100 hours assisting 33 victims at local hospitals.

Hospital protocols require local hospital emergency room attendants to ask if alleged rape and sexual assault victims need assistance from rape crisis centers. The center workers talk to and stay with victims, help with paper work before being discharged and follow up with the victim. According to Susan Hanson, emergency room registered nurse at Provena Covenant Hospital in Urbana, the service at the local state rape crisis center has been an essential source of support for victims that come into the emergency room at Provena.

“The support the workers give is unbelievable,” Hanson said. “They are constantly there by the victim’s side even when the nurses can’t be and help get many traumatized girls through hard times.”

According to a fact sheet issued by the governor’s office, Gov. Blagojevich had originally threatened to cut $260 million from state social services – $5.2 million from state rape crisis centers. Blagojevich restored the money after learning of about $1.4 million in federal cuts to Illinois’ rape crisis centers effective July 1.

To the Champaign County center, the threat of budget cuts is always lingering.

“We are already facing a potential 30 percent cut from our federal funds,” Scott said. “Funding is something we have to grapple with every time a new budget is made.”