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Sex-assault services in peril

LIHU‘E — At any hour, any day of the week, the YWCA can offer an immediate crisis response to victims of sexual assault. And as cutbacks are sweeping at every level, this service is threatened.

“We are concerned about the impact that a pretty-substantial, proposed funding reduction to our sex-assault services will have on our community,” YWCA Executive Director Renae Hamilton-Cambeilh said.

In January, the state proposed a $714,000-a-year cut to its contract with the Sex Abuse Treatment Center, which subcontracts for treatment services with the YWCA of Kaua‘i.

Locally, that’d be a loss of around $122,000 in funding for programs including the 24-hour, year-round, crisis-intervention program, as well as a reduction in clinical counseling and prevention education.

These programs are funded through outside grants and federal, state and county funds, with the state’s portion making up the most of the operationional money. If approved by the state Legislature, these impacts would begin in July.

This potential defunding for YWCA would be “detrimental to victims and the investigation process,” Kaua‘i Police Department Assistant Chief Bryson Ponce said last week.

When a sex assault is called in, the KPD activates its Sexual Assault Response Team, which includes law enforcement, nurses, the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney and the YWCA.

Calls can come in at any time, and a key part of this team effort, Ponce said, is a victim advocate from YWCA who offers support during sex-assault exams, police reports and counseling.

In 2020, over 130 people received crisis services. YWCA assisted in the completion of 14 sexual assault nurse examiner exams. Nine of these exams were completed outside of business hours.

“In the event we don’t have advocates, we try our best,” Ponce said, but without any female detectives on the force currently, this process can be difficult.

“If you have a female victim, they may be weary without another female in the room,” Ponce explained.

That training could cost anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 per patrol officer to have the type of training required to work with sex-assault victims, Ponce estimated.

“Evidence shows that when it comes to following through with police reports, following through with exams, you have a higher percentage who will make a police report when they have an advocate who’s there for them providing emotional support and giving them the information that they need to make decisions for themselves,” Hamilton-Cambeilh said.

The YWCA offers the only service of its kind on Kaua‘i. Hamilton-Cambeilh also anticipating cutting back its clinical-counseling services, which helped 88 people last year.

“If there is a waitlist, a family who is now going through this horrible, traumatic experience, they now would have to wait for clinical treatment,” Hamilton-Cambeilh said. “In the initial crisis phase, whether that’s 2 o’clock in the morning or 2 o’clock in the afternoon, we have our crisis-intervention counselor who will go out and meet people and be there.”

Further, prevention education would be reduced by about half, Hamilton-Cambeilh said.

“Fewer students would receive the information that they would need, the support, opportunities that they would have to make reports,” Hamilton-Cambeilh said. “Less staff being able to deliver those services would make a huge difference.”

County Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar underscored that while there may be funding cutbacks, services will continue.

“The implosion of the state budget has resulted in a reduction in the amount of money available for us to sub-grant out to our contractors,” Kollar said in a statement Wednesday.

“We are fortunate to be able to maintain the funding for these programs even at a reduced level, and we expect that we and all our vendors will continue providing services to crime victims and survivors at the same high level we do currently,” Kollar said.

A cut came to the YWCA before, in 2008 during the recession, and because of the pandemic, a 10% restriction came this fiscal year.

“Our programs are so bare-bones … but this 30% that would be effective July 1 goes really deep into our programs,” Hamilton-Cambeilh said. “Having our team reduced by 30% (it) is really hard to underscore how devastating that’s going to be.”


Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or
Source: The Garden Island

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