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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Appropriations needed to continue services for abused

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

CAASA Staff Youth Coordinator Leah Johnson (seated) and Buena Vista/Sac County Director Jenny Ahlers (standing) are two of the professional staff members of the CAASA Program. Photo by Dan Whitney.
October has been designated as 'Domestic Violence Awareness Month.' Having the means for providing services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault is as essential to our Iowa communities as having a fire department, because - like a fire - domestic violence or sexual assault can affect anyone.

It is no respecter of social, racial or economic status. Victims may be members of your family, your friends, or other community members you know - anyone can be a victim. Statistics say that every two minutes someone in America is sexually assaulted. Last year alone, Iowa's domestic abuse and sexual assault programs served an incredible 26,345 victims of abuse.

Domestic abuse programs in Iowa were first funded in 1979 . Federal and state grants have provided roughly 60% of program funding since then, with the other 40% coming from private donations. Budgets have remained the same or been cut for several years, and now, due to federal and state funding cuts, many of Iowa's 28 Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Programs face a severe reduction in their funding or even closure.

An allocation of $4 million from the State legislature is needed just to keep all 28 centers open and providing their current services. That means no extra services, no extra staff - just doing what they are doing now. If this allocation is not forthcoming, nine of the 28 programs will need to be closed.

Safe room to play - The CAASA Shelter in Cherokee has a room stocked with toys from volunteers, in which residents' kids may play. Photo by Dan Whitney.
Though allegedly a "random" selection of programs, it is notable that rural areas always seem to be the first to go when "Des Moines" makes cuts. Since 2002, the average number of staff per program in Iowa has decreased from eight to five and the average number of counties served by each program has increased from three to five.

The Centers Against Abuse and Sexual Assault serve victims and families of domestic and sexual violence in Buena Vista, Cherokee, Clay, Dickinson, Emmet, Ida, Palo Alto and Sac Counties.

In the last 10 years,CAASA's full-time staff has been reduced from 14 counselors for the 9-county area to just eight, and there is only one coordinator to handle the entire 9-county area.

CAASA can provide the following services if they receive essential funding: 24 hour crisis line; 24 hour crisis intervention; individual counseling and advocacy for adults, teens and children; support groups for adults, teens and children; bilingual advocacy; information and referral; emergency shelter for victims of abuse and child witnesses; limited transporattion to services; school and community prevention programs; networking with other agencies and referral to the education program for batterers.

All services are confidential, and free of charge to anyone regardless of race, religion, sex or capability. CAASA would like to be able to focus on the prevention of domestic violence and sexual assault in addition to providing response in crisis situations. With reduced funding, these outreach, education and children's services are severely restricted.

Julie Schulenberg is the coordinator of the Cherokee and Ida County CAASA service centers and Jenny Ahlers is the coordinator for Buena Vista and Sac Counties. Leah Johnson is CAASA's Youth Coordinator, providing children's services, including speaking to students in area schools about "safe touching." CAASA's current staff members all have at least a Level III Certified Domestic Assault and/or Sexual Abuse Counseling certification.

Volunteers are very important in CAASA also, especially due to their limited funding. Service to clients are free, by the way, so victims who are staying in the CAASA Shelter do not pay for their room and board.

CAASA has two stores - Second Chances in Spencer and New Leaf here in Cherokee. The stores provide a funding outlet for CAASA as well as a place for shelter residents to "shop" for necessary items.

In conjunction with Domestic Awareness Month,the Cherokee CAASA Shelter held a Legislative "Shel-tour" of their facility on October 10. All area legislators and the media were invited to meet with CAASA Executive Director Rhonda Dean and the local staff to discuss the services available and tour the facility. Lori Sokolowski, Democratic candidate for the state legislature, was the only invitee besides myself to respond.

Collect calls are accepted at all CAASA Centers.The Cherokee County CAASA Center telephone number is 712- 225-5003 and the Storm Lake Center's number is 712-732-8120.

CAASA also has a toll-free 24-hour crisis line (1-877-362-4612) available for anyone in need of assistance.

Bethlehem Lutheran Church will be holding a Candlelight Vigil at the church (300 East Bow Drive in Cherokee) on Sunday, October 19, 2008. The vigil will "mourn those who have died, celebrate those who have survived, and connect those who have worked to end domestic violence." Organizers ask that participants arrive at 6:45 p.m., and the vigil will begin at 7 p.m.

Another activity is in the tentative planning stages and is a "Women's Night Out" in at the Cherokee WITCC Conference Center in February, with master of ceremonies Christy Batien of KTIV television, and featuring motivational speaker Pat McGill. More details on this event will be made available at a later date.

CAASA suggests you check out www.victimstosurvivors.org for more information about the fiancial crisis facing the Iowa Domestic Abuse programs, and contact your state representatives and senators to express your concern. If the nine randomly selected programs facing possible closure had been cut last year, 7019 victims would not have received domestic violence and sexual assault services.

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