Just a month after establishing a permanent commission to help curb sexual assault and domestic violence, Governor Mitt Romney has been handed a proposed budget that would eliminate 70 percent of public funding for state rape crisis centers and sexual assault services.
Advocates and members of Jane Doe Inc., the state’s largest support service for members of sexual assault victims, gathered yesterday on the State House steps to decry the cuts and lobby for a supplemental budget. The Legislature’s spending plan for next year, which still awaits Romney’s approval, cuts Jane Doe’s current $2.5 million budget to $800,000, which would cause the elimination of a number of services.
Catherine M. Greene, interim executive director of Jane Doe, said she was astonished when she learned of the budget cuts last week.
”It is bitter,” she said, ‘'because rather than coming together to celebrate the launch of a new initiative . . . as many of us did earlier this May, we have come together because the very existence of these services is threatened.”
The loss of funding could close 13 of the 18 state rape crisis centers, some as soon as Tuesday, the first day of the next fiscal year. Llamonos y Hablemos, the state’s only 24-hour hot line for Spanish-speaking victims, and the Refugee and Immigrant Safety and Empowerment program are also slated to shut down.
Elizabeth Cohen, executive director of Rape Crisis Services of Greater Lowell, said center closings would force a sexual assault victim in Lynn to call a hot line more than 30 miles away in Lowell for help.
”Today my agency reaches a community of 13 cities and towns, but with these dangerous cuts in public funding, we could be left covering a community of over 100 cities and towns,” she said.
According to Jane Doe, their rape crisis centers provided 2,726 individuals with 13,498 sessions of counseling and advocacy services during fiscal 2002.
Spurred by the likely budget cuts, Jane Doe supporters have started a fund-raising campaign, hoping to collect more than $150,000 in private contributions over the next few weeks so they won’t have to shut any doors on Tuesday. To maintain current services throughout the year, Jane Doe will need to raise an additional $650,000. The majority of the group’s funding comes from the state, although some of the crisis centers run their own fund-raising efforts, said spokeswoman Toni Troop.
Greene also used the news conference to release a report that estimates that nearly one of every seven women in Massachusetts — about 340,000 women — have been victims of at least one rape in their lifetime. Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey, chairwoman of the Governor’s Commission on Sexual and Domestic Violence, rallied in favor of the rape crisis centers. She said victim assistance is a priority of society and the Commonwealth.
”This is a cause worth fighting for,” she said. ”Sexual violence does, in fact, affect everyone: men, children, women. If one out of every seven women in Massachusetts has been sexually assaulted, we should be able to easily recognize the need for safe, confidential, and responsive care for our victims.”
Healey said the governor is powerless to restore the rape crisis centers’ funding, because he can only veto line items in the budget, not suggest new spending.
Romney and the state Senate preserved rape crisis funding in their budget proposals, while the House cut it by about 70 percent. The compromise budget, completed last week, uses the House’s figure.
Advocates and backers are hoping the Legislature will provide additional money later this summer by passing a supplemental budget.
Senator Jarrett T. Barrios yesterday stressed the need for a supplemental budget. Speaking to about 100 onlookers, the Cambridge Democrat said: ”If we are going to get the money, we have to turn the heat up.”
Brendan McCarthy, Globe Correspondent, 6/27/2003
This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 6/27/2003.
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