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Santa Clara County to boost rape crisis centers' funding

State funding doesn't come close to covering the victim services it mandates

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors agreed Tuesday to fund critical services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, saying it's necessary because the state budget is underfunding the region's rape crisis centers.

In a 5-0 vote, supervisors voted for county staff to come up with an agreement that brings "adequate and immediate" funding to the county's two rape crisis centers — YWCA of Silicon Valley and Community Solutions — as part of a larger effort to combat gender-based violence in Santa Clara County. YWCA provides the bulk of those services, and responds to emergency calls in North County cities including Mountain View and Palo Alto.

"I believe we have an obligation to the victims to ensure that help is available when they need it," said Supervisor Cindy Chavez. "No one should have to wait for hours, days or weeks for assistance after experiencing probably the worst thing that has ever happened to them — a sexual assault."

County staffers are also seeking to open clinics capable of conducting sexual assault forensic exams in Gilroy and are working with Stanford University to open a clinic somewhere in the North County area. Currently, all victims must go to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, and frequently face lengthy waits to be seen.

Along with medical accompaniment, rape crisis centers assist victims in interviews with law enforcement and the District Attorney's Office, and go with them to court proceedings. YWCA staff reported that only 37% of rapes are reported to police, meaning many of the advocacy services provided have no criminal justice component.

State law mandates that every victim of sexual assault in California has a right to an advocate who can guide them through the traumatic aftermath, which often involves both law enforcement and medical staff in the critical hours that follow. YWCA and Community Solutions have dispatch teams that provided 711 in-person responses to victims in the 2017-18 fiscal year, about half of whom sought a sexual assault forensic exam, also known as a rape kit.

The needs are rising rapidly, with a 20% year-over-year increase in forensic exams being performed in the county since 2017 and the District Attorney's Office now handling over 1,000 sexual assault cases each year. But despite the increased demand, the county does not provide any funding for the advocacy services.

The reason, according to county staff, is that it's not technically the county's responsibility. State and federal funding through California's Office of Emergency Services are supposed to pay for the advocacy services required under state law. But the funding falls woefully short of what it actually costs to provide the services.

Between October last year and September this year, for example, YWCA was given $66,366 in state funds to support victims through its Rape Crisis Program, which isn't enough money to hire even one full-time person. YWCA and Community Solutions have a combined total of seven advocates who serve a county with more than 1.9 million residents.

"The state, in this instance, has dropped the ball," Chavez said. "We really can't wait for them to get their act together. We have victims right now who are desperately in need of these services."

Supervisor Susan Ellenberg pointed out that Gov. Gavin Newsom's budget proposal in May did not renew $5 million in one-time funding for rape crisis center programs included in last year's budget, which leaves only a paltry $45,000 in general fund money to address sexual violence throughout the entire state.

Supervisors have had a laser focus on addressing domestic violence and sexual assault in recent months, agreeing in May to devote $5 million to gender-based violence programs. Whatever amount the county ultimately grants rape crisis centers to fill the funding gap, Chavez said it shouldn't dip into that $5 million fund.

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Kevin Forestieri writes for the Mountain View Voice, the sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

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