She could be your mother, sister, daughter, girlfriend or neighbor. Likewise, he could be your father, brother, son or boyfriend. But after experiencing sexual assault, they must walk a long, hard journey from victim to survivor.
It’s unfortunate that victims of sexual assault still carry a stigma in the 21st century, rendering many people uncomfortable with a topic that advocates say absolutely must be addressed.
The Sexual Assault Center of Northwest Georgia has answered 402 crisis calls, performed 105 forensic exams, and completed 212 cases with services in the past 11 months alone.
Board president Tannika Wester said it is now at risk of not receiving enough funding to continue the services. A major concern is the debate over reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which is the primary funding source for crisis centers.
Kim Davis, the center’s director, said the SAC escaped budget cuts for fiscal year 2012, but they are uncertain of what the future will bring.
“We are sitting and waiting to see if money is trickling down from the feds,” Davis said. “The center operates on funds received by the Governor’s Office for Families and Children and the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. We have yet to receive one of our contracts from back in July.”
Without a contract, the center can’t bill for services, and without the money, they can’t continue to provide their services.
“We continue to make phone calls and ask questions, but no one seems to know the answers and we continue to find ourselves left in the dark, waiting,” she said. “A budget crisis is one thing, but I am sure if this was their mother, sister or daughter, they would not be concerned about the budget at all.”
And it’s not just the local crisis center that’s being affected. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that center directors across Georgia are singing the same, sad song. Their facilities, which operate 24 hours a day, are finding it difficult to keep their heads above water.
Nationally, there were 83,425 rapes reported last year, representing 26.8 rapes per 100,000 people. Georgia’s rate is just slightly lower than the national average — about 22 rape cases per 100,000 people.
The SAC’s services are ongoing 24 hours a day, seven days a week, said Davis.
“When someone needs us, we are there,” she said. “I don’t think the state fully understands what we do and why these services are so important to our communities. It’s like they hear us talking, but they aren’t listening to the words and the purpose. Sexual assault is a difficult topic to talk about for many, and often makes people uncomfortable, but the reality is that it happens everyday.”
Davis is urging concerned residents to demand the center remain open and able to serve victims in the region.
“This isn’t just my problem, it is everyone’s problem and I would love to see this community come together and start sending letters and calling their legislators and let them know that they are in support of our services and how important it is for these services to remain in our community,” she said. “Maybe with enough calls and letters we can get their attention.”
The center, she said, saves Floyd County money, since victims otherwise would have to sit and wait for hours in order to get emergency room services. The center also allows the victim the opportunity to be in a private location with a trained sexual assault nurse examiner, along with an advocate.
And the service doesn’t stop there. SAC workers continue to follow up with the victim, offer support services, provide advocacy, court accompaniment, counseling and legal services as long as the victim needs and wants it.
Davis said she feels disheartened, especially when she was told the SAC is losing a $25,000 line item put in the budget by then-state senator Preston Smith in 2006. Without this money, the SAC will have to eliminate a good portion of its services and may even be on the verge of closing its doors after 20 years.
She said she wasn’t bitter, just frustrated, but will continue to fight for funds until the very end.
“Being in the nonprofit sector, I understand nothing is a guarantee, but this is someone’s life we are talking about,” Davis said. “Being raped is a traumatic experience, life-shattering to say the least. Our services help them put the pieces back together. Failure is not an option, so I will keep doing what I do until someone hears my cry.”