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RVAP expansion to launch ads

BY MICHELLE NGO | MARCH 31, 2014 5:00 AM

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Beginning in early April, residents in southeastern Iowa can expect to see a massive advertisement campaign from the Rape Victim Advocacy Program about its recent expansion to four additional counties: Des Moines, Henry, Lee, and Van Buren Counties.

The program covered only Cedar, Iowa, Johnson, and Washington Counties prior to the expansion.

“This will be our big launch,” said Karla Miller, the executive director of RVAP. “The new counties have been receiving a good number of calls and clients since the outreach offices opened in January, but we’re hoping we will see newer clients as word gets out.”

The expansion process began in July 2012 after the Iowa Attorney General’s Office created a new plan to regionalize and cut down on the number of victim advocacy programs across the state in order to address inadequate federal and state funding.

In July 2012, the state originally allocated RVAP $2.1 million, but after an appeal from the service, the state increased funding to $6.7 million, Miller said.

According to the Rape Crisis Center Survey conducted by the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, 75 percent of rape crisis centers lost funding prior to 2013.

Additionally, the plan separates sexual assault and domestic violence services in former dual-service centers or organizations.

“Because domestic violence shelters are so labor-intensive, those services completely overshadowed the sexual-assault services,” said Beth Barnhill, executive director of the Iowa Coalition against Sexual Assault. “We’re already seeing a large increase in the number of sexual-assault survivors being served since the change, so I am very encouraged.”

While she agrees separating the dual programs has been beneficial, the change has not come without challenges, Miller said.

“I can only imagine how painful it was for the outgoing directors to have to lay off their staff to close their doors,” Miller said. “But they have been very, very good about introducing us to the community. The goal all the way through this is to not have the changes impact people from using our services.”

Under the new changes, the additional counties can access RVAP’s 24-hour crisis hotline and meet with their county’s RVAP representative, who serves as a sexual-assault counselor and advocate.
Three of the four counselors had worked as a sexual-assault counselor in the community before, making it a much easier transition, Miller said.

Stefanie Wood, who served nearly seven years in her community at Young Women’s Christian Association’s Women’s Resource Center, will serve as a counselor for the Des Moines county RVAP office.

“The community understands the closing of the women’s resource center was due to a depletion of funds by the state,” Woods said. “Their only concern was what would happen to those who need services. So when RVAP stepped in to help, the community rallied around and set up a collective sigh of relief.”

Woods is the only counselor currently available in her community, but Miller hopes the April campaign, which includes posters, TV and radio ads, and possibly even billboards, will draw in future volunteers for the outreach offices in each new county.

Barnhill said additional government funding could help add more staff to the programs in order to meet high demands for sexual-assault services.

“Historically, we have really underfunded these programs in part because our initial understanding was it primarily affected women, but we now know it affects many more men than we thought,” Barnhill said. “Now, we’re living with that legacy where it wasn’t a priority in the beginning, so it’s hard to go in much later and give the funding these issues deserve and to really run these programs right. It’s a huge problem nationally.”


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