California rape crisis centers need more funding. A one-time influx is not enough

Last month and at my urging, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted to move $600,000 from county reserves to provide the YWCA Silicon Valley in San Jose and Community Solutions in Gilroy the resources they needed to staff 24-hour counseling and other response services to rape victims.

The decision means that our county’s two rape crisis centers can continue to provide much-needed services to victims of domestic and sexual violence. But while our county board undoubtedly did the right thing, the day-to-day operation of these vital centers should not have come down to this. Local government deserves a full partner in the state of California for this obligation to protect its residents.

Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature recognized this when they agreed to a one-time allocation of $5 million for rape crisis centers across the state. I urge them to make this a continuing funding stream. These centers are simply too essential to be scrambling for survival each year.

It would be one thing if there was any indication that the services provided by rape crisis centers were no longer needed or at least the public demand for help was lessening or perhaps even unchanged. But that’s simply not the case.


As Santa Clara Valley Medical Center has recently reported, demand for medical exams for survivors of sexual violence increased more than a third this year compared to last. And reports of rapes in San Jose have risen markedly over the last decade. And that’s just in my own county.

While the number of incidents of violent crime, including homicide and armed robbery, have generally been in decline in California, reports of rape have doubled over the last half-decade. As The Sacramento Bee reported this summer, there were 15,500 cases of rape statewide last year compared to 7,459 in 2013. Meanwhile, the number of domestic violence related calls involving someone armed with a gun or knife has risen since 2009, according to the Office of the Attorney General.

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Cindy Chavez
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Victims need immediate help, too. Sometimes, that involves counseling by phone. Sometimes, it requires physically accompanying survivors through what can be a second traumatization – medical treatment, evidence gathering and contact with investigating law enforcement officers.

Our rape crisis centers simply can’t get by on just $45,000 in state funding per year. In Illinois, which has a third of the population of California, the state provides about million $8 million for its rape crisis centers.

So I implore to Newsom and the Legislature, let’s devise a statewide formula to underwrite rape crisis centers with both state and local tax dollars. Their mission has never been more necessary. I see it every day in Santa Clara County, but I believe it’s just as obvious in Sacramento County or in Los Angeles County or San Francisco County, and the rest of our State.

Let’s keep these vital services available in the Golden State even as we reform how we go about prosecuting and preventing these terrible crimes.

Cindy Chavez is vice president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.
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