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Proposed funding cuts would hinder aid to victims

HARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence are urging the Pennsylvania House and Senate to restore funds to the House amended budget because of victims like Beth. 
Beth was 15 years old when her music teacher began raping her in school. For nine months she worried about selecting clothes that would be difficult to rip off and how to avoid him in the school halls.
She remembers choking back tears while taking a chemistry exam because she’d been raped 20 minutes before. Beth told her Girl Scout leader, who called Pittsburgh Action Against Rape and got her help.  That help meant so much to Beth. She is now President of the Board of Directors at the same rape crisis center, more than 25 years later.
But services like those provided to Beth and thousands each year across Pennsylvania may be harder to find if the Pennsylvania House amended budget is passed with the proposed nine percent cut in funding to crisis services for raped and battered women, children and men. 
Rape crisis centers across the Commonwealth assisted more than 31,000 victims of sexual assault in fiscal year 2010. Approximately one-third of those clients were children. Domestic violence programs served 92,000 victims, including 7,410 children, during that same year.
House Appropriations Chairman Bill Adolph has framed cuts to the Department of Welfare programs as a way to find money to restore funding to education programs. 
Republican Policy Committee Chairman Dave Reed stressed, “You hate to cut back anywhere but when we look at our priorities we prioritize education over some of the spending that has occurred with the Department of Public Welfare.”  
Advocates for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault are baffled by that prioritization.
“In the hierarchy of human need, safety must come first,” said Peg Dierkers, Executive Director of PCADV. 
Delilah Rumburg, Chief Executive Officer of PCAR agreed. “The reality is that kids won’t learn in school if they are witnessing or experiencing battery, rape or other sexual abuse. You cannot take services away from victims to subsidize education and expect these same children to perform well in school.”
State funding levels for domestic violence and rape crisis services have not increased in nine years, and during that time have received cuts. “This nine percent cut brings domestic violence service funding back to the 1998 level,” said Dierkers.
Directors of local crisis centers echoed this history.
“This cuts us at the core of our foundational support,” said Janet MacKay, Executive Director of Victims Resource Center which provides rape crisis and domestic violence services to victims in Luzerne, Carbon and Wyoming counties. “During the last 10 years we have had a 20 percent decrease in funds and one-third reduction in staff but no decrease in demand for services--and actually an increase in need for services due to economic conditions.”
Local crisis centers say their budgets are already stretched too thin, and additional cuts can only be absorbed in personnel – which equal fewer services for victims. Reduced victim safety services increase the burden and risk to law enforcement and the courts in communities throughout Pennsylvania.
Victim services are further threatened by the loss of stimulus funding – which has filled gaps created by state funding reductions over the last decade – and by similar proposed funding cuts to core partners, such as the statewide legal aid network.
Victims already feel these effects.
The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence has already had two shelters close due to economic constraints—including one last week in Bedford County—during a time when the number of domestic violence homicides in Pennsylvania has increased.
The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape estimates that the proposed nine percent cut would result in a loss of 12,000 counseling hours to victims of sexual assault, and an inability to provide any services at all to nearly 4,000 women, children and men across the Commonwealth who have been sexually assaulted.
The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape is the oldest state anti-sexual violence coalition in the U.S. The organization represents 51 sexual assault centers that serve the state’s 67 counties. Each year these centers provide confidential services, at no charge, to men, women and children affected by sexual abuse.
The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence is a private, nonprofit organization with a statewide office in Harrisburg and a network of 60 community-based domestic violence programs providing free and confidential services to domestic violence victims in every county of the commonwealth.  More than 2.5 million women, men and children have received help to rebuild their lives since the Coalition's founding as the first state domestic violence coalition in 1976.