Keeping up those comprehensive services amid the rising demand has been difficult, said YWCA CEO Tanis Crosby, particularly with the hands-off approach by the state of California. The nonprofit is the only designated rape crisis center for most of Santa Clara County, including North County cities, and the state penal code requires that these services be available to all survivors.
Available funding earmarked in the state budget to actually pay for these services has been paltry at best: Only $45,000 in general fund dollars were allocated for rape crisis centers across all of California for the 2019-20 fiscal year, down from $5 million the prior year. Limited government contracts and a bevy of private donations have kept YWCA afloat in recent years, but the number of available advocates has been stretched thin trying to respond to all calls.
The good news is that 2019 has proven to be a watershed moment for the nonprofit and larger efforts to curb gender-based violence, with sudden and significant support coming from Santa Clara County. Throughout the year, county supervisors have chastised state officials for abdicating their responsibility to fund services for survivors of rape and sexual assault, and agreed to pitch in a combined $1.7 million in funding to YWCA to bridge the gap left by the state.
"This is a public health issue, and local leaders responded," Crosby said. "There absolutely has been a pivot point."
The big boost in funding aside, Crosby said there's still work to do, and every dollar counts. Survivors served by YWCA are increasingly desperate and facing tougher hurdles in finding a place to stay amid the regional housing crisis, many of whom have landed in emergency shelters operated by the nonprofit in discreet locations throughout the county. Funds from public agencies are a great help, she said, but are only for specific, direct services. It's up to individual contributions and philanthropic donations to pay for everything else.
"Donors fill the gap that government doesn't fund, and government funding is like Swiss cheese," Crosby said. "Without donor support, we cannot respond to the need of survivors."
YWCA is one of seven local nonprofits that benefit from donations to the Voice's Holiday Fund. With the support of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, 100% of donations go directly to these nonprofits.
Data collected by the county shows that sexual assaults reports are on the rise by just about every metric, likely in part due to survivors' increased willingness to speak out. County prosecutors are handling more than 5,000 domestic violence cases each year; Santa Clara Valley Medical Center reported a 35% increase in forensic exams in 2019 compared to last year; and local shelter programs had to turn away 2,151 victims of domestic violence due to lack of capacity.
A big milestone in 2019 was a new joint agreement between 22 agencies, including YWCA, police departments, hospitals and forensic examiners that sets clear guidelines for how the numerous organizations involved in assisting sexual assault survivors are supposed to work with one another. The so-called Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) protocol, adopted in September, is meant to break down the siloed approach and ensure that patients are appropriately treated every step of the way, whether at the scene of the crime or in an emergency room. It goes so far as to include flow charts for what specific actions police officers, nurses and YWCA advocates should take depending on each scenario.
Crosby said she believes the SART protocol will likely increase demand by spurring more people to report sexual assaults, which she said is a good thing — it means fewer people are falling through the cracks.
A majority of the domestic violence cases handled by YWCA don't have a criminal justice component — meaning they are not reported to the police or victims do not seek to press charges — so the number of survivors seeking help far exceeds how many cases are tracked by local law enforcement agencies. Crosby said it's great that the district attorney's office is seeking justice for survivors, but the inclination is to check off each conviction as a victory. For YWCA, the priorities are different.
"What YWCA is concerned about is that the survivor is okay, and how they are doing on their healing journey," she said.
In the coming years, YWCA will be on the forefront in providing support services for students at Stanford University in a new partnership with the school, and will bring essential advocacy services to all patients who arrive at Stanford Hospital for sexual assault forensic exams. Patients currently have to travel to Valley Medical Center in San Jose for the exams, but a recent deal struck between the hospital and the county means patients can be treated by Stanford's emergency department starting in 2020.
Crosby said the help from donors also gives YWCA more time to work on "lasting change" that only comes through public policy and advocacy, and the proof was apparent in 2019. It was through tireless work by advocacy groups and even the survivors themselves to make clear that something had to change, which helped galvanize the county to respond with a hefty investment, she said.
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