Rape Advocacy Center in Urbana fears closure

By Jenny Horne

When Lakin discovered the Rape Advocacy, Counseling and Education Services, RACES, in Urbana, she thought she had finally found her outlet. Lakin contacted the center, hopeful to volunteer. But then, she learned some surprising news.

“I was told the center cannot hire me because they do not know if they will still be open in a few weeks,” Lakin said. “I was pretty devastated.”

After the state budget impasse, several rape counseling centers across Illinois today are without a single penny of state funding. This will result in a lack of rape advocacy and education across the entire state, including the loss of this local center.

According to RACES volunteer Amy Williams, the center served over 37,000 individuals last year within a range of four counties.

Lakin said she was angry after learning the state is no longer funding these many rape crisis and women’s resources centers throughout the state.

“I was shocked that no one seems to be talking about this,” Lakin said. “The state is causing multiple rape services to close. I don’t know why they’re doing this and why we can’t stop them.”

Stephanie Ames, volunteer coordinator of the center, said they were hit with the news of the budget cut in June. She said half of their funding came from the state, and they were hurt significantly when that 50 percent fell to 0.

“At this point, we’ve really exhausted all resources,” Ames said. “We’ve exhausted our reserve, so we’re now at a point where we’re certainly still pushing for a budget of course. We’re not the only service that is suffering in the state.”

Williams, who also serves as a co-chair for the RACES SOS committee, said the center has been a vital part of the community for nearly five decades.

“We’ve had our hotline running continuously 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for 365 days of the year for the past 45 years,” Williams said.

Unlike other rape counseling centers in Champaign-Urbana, RACES promises to never turn a single person away – no matter how many times they have already received services.

Williams said without the center, a survivor may be forced to navigate on their own, without the help of qualified supervisors.

“We provide services for sexual assault survivors, (which) require a high level of training, making it difficult for other community agencies to fill the gap if RACES were to close,” Williams said.

Williams also said they will no longer be able to offer guidance without money from the state.

“Without a budget being passed, we are out almost $200,000 from the state,” Williams said.

Ames acknowledged that many people, like Lakin, are frustrated with the state’s lack of involvement in the matter.

“This is ridiculous; this has gone on too long,” Ames said. “Too many services have already reduced or closed their doors and this can’t go on for much longer.”

She said the center’s employees are irritated with the state, and many people feel the state is contradicting itself with it’s regulations and policies. For example, Ames touched on the national movement known as the “It’s On Us” campaign.

“So it’s kind of like our legislators passed this bill that requires the University to do these things, and yet, the centers that provide these services may not be there,” Ames said.

Moving forward, the center’s employees hope community involvement will “fuel the fire” and help the center fundraise.

“The community is doing everything they can to help us stay home,” Williams said.

Ames agreed with Williams, saying the center is an important resource in Champaign, and everyone there is putting all of their energy into remaining open.

Upcoming fundraising events include the “Exile on Main Street Benefit Concert” on Feb. 20, and the “Save Our Services” crowd-funding campaign, which will launch on the same day.

The impasse is affecting more than just Champaign County, according to Williams and Ames and they said they hope to impress this upon the public.

“This is a resource that our community has come to expect to be there, and we want to make sure that this resource continues to be there, along with our other services,” Ames said.

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Correction: Amy Williams was previously cited as a RACES administrator. Williams is a volunteer and co-chair for the SOS committee. The Daily Illini regrets the error.