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More Money Sought To Help Sexual Violence Victims In Wisconsin

Advocates And Victims Will Ask Lawmakers To More Than Double Funding

Wisconsin State Capitol
Phil Roeder (CC-BY)

The increased awareness surrounding sexual assault and harassment created by the #MeToo movement has meant Wisconsin programs that help victims of sexual violence have seen increased use of their services.

Advocates argue the demand means the only state-funded program to help sexual violence victims needs a sizable funding increase in the next state budget.

“The rise of the #MeToo movement and the widespread attention to the issue of sexual violence is providing an opportunity for policymakers to really devote some significant attention to funding the critical sexual assault services and prevention efforts in our state,” said Ian Henderson, the director of legal and systems services for the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

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The organization supports the work of 56 agencies in Wisconsin that offer services to sexual violence victims. The services range from legal assistance and offering shelter to community outreach.

Henderson said estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show 1 in 5 Wisconsin women have experienced rape in their life, 1 in 3 women have experience physical sexual violence and 1 in 6 men have experienced physical sexual violence.

Sexual assault victims and their advocates will be at the state Capitol Tuesday lobbying lawmakers about the need to substantially increase the Sexual Assault Victim Services program through the Department of Justice from the current $2.28 million level of funding to $5.88 million in the 2019-21 state budget.

“We think that’s the level that’s needed for programs to adequately, not only provide high quality services to survivors, but also to focus on prevention and education efforts that are really critical,” Henderson said.

The SAVS program helps 47 of the 56 agencies the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault works with.

“They report to us experiencing a tension between direct services and prevention,” Henderson said. “Their prevention and outreach efforts might be more limited to one-time education sessions in the school and we know what we need for comprehensive prevention education. It needs to be multi-session, it needs to be multi-level (in schools) and we think increasing the SAVS funding will allow for programs to devote the resources needed for both comprehensive prevention and high-quality sexual assault victim services,” he said.

Henderson said on average it costs more than $120,000 per sexual violence survivor to help them.

One of the agencies that works with sexual violence victims in northern Wisconsin is New Day Advocacy Center in Ashland, which has seen an increase in cases of sexual violence reported in recent years.

“There’s been a tremendous amount of change in the issues that clients are dealing with. There’s a lot more drug addiction. A lot of them have been arrested for drugs and a lot of that has to do with the fact they are in a domestic violence situation,” said Kathy Roper, New Day’s executive director.

“There’s just a lot more people and it’s just a lot harder. People are staying here a lot longer. They have a lot to deal with when they come in. It takes them a lot longer to be able to focus after the trauma they’ve experienced and get into housing and things like that,” she said.

Roper said there were 84 instances last year when New Day had to turn people away. There were 260 cases last year that New Day helped with, a 31 percent increase from 2015 when there were 198 cases.

New Day Advocacy Center is working to raise $1.2 million that will help it move to a new office and shelter that will more than double available bedrooms from three to seven.