By Rep. Mary Wolfe
Special to the Herald
Next Tuesday, Oct. 23, at 6 p.m., the Crime Victim Assistance Division of the Iowa Attorney General’s office will host a public meeting at the Clinton Community College Auditorium to receive input from Clinton County residents on the CVAD’s proposed regionalization of Iowa’s domestic and sexual assault victim services programs.
Under this proposal, it appears likely that our local programs (including our emergency shelter program) will not be eligible for the state and federally funded grants administered through the CVAD, and that most of the services currently being offered to local victims of domestic and/or sexual abuse will be relocated to larger cities (e.g., Davenport or Iowa City).
It also appears likely that the proposed regionalization will have an extremely negative impact on the ability of Clinton County residents to access these valuable —and sometimes life saving — services.
That’s not acceptable to me and if it’s not acceptable to you, please join me, our local victim services providers, our community leaders at CCC next Tuesday at 5:30 p.m., a half hour before the CVAD’s public meeting starts, for a rally in support of Clinton County and Clinton County’s community based victim services programs.
As a criminal defense attorney, I know how hard it is for some victims to ask for help, and how quickly victims can seize upon the smallest delay or inconvenience as an excuse for staying right where they are — and that’s why it’s so crucial that the array of victim services offered to Clinton County residents by the YWCA and other local providers remain readily and easily accessible.
If Clinton County victims seeking emergency shelter for themselves and their children are required to travel to another county in the middle of the night, or wait days or weeks before being able to meet with a therapist, I’m sure that at least some of these victims won’t follow through —instead, they’ll stay in the abusive relationship, at least until they’re hurt seriously enough to have the decision to leave taken out of their hands.
And if they stay, so will their children — and children who grow up surrounded by domestic violence are far more likely to grow up to be abusers or victims of abusers.
We also need to keep in mind that if our local domestic/sexual violence victim services programs are eliminated, our local law enforcement officers, jails, court systems, schools, and hospitals/mental health providers will have no choice but to assume responsibility for providing at least some of these eliminated services.
I’m sure that all these dedicated professionals will do their best, but Clinton County’s current victim services providers receive specialized training and are granted certain legal immunities that our local police, deputies, county attorneys, teachers, and health care providers simply don’t have — not to mention the fact that our local city and county budgets are already strapped and ill equipped to take on any additional financial burden.
Regionalization will most likely entail centralizing services in counties with larger urban populations, like Scott or Johnson — and presumably Clinton County victims will remain eligible for these services, assuming that they can either get themselves to the service provider or are willing to wait for the service provider to come to Clinton.
The details of the proposed regionalization haven’t been worked out, and thus it’s difficult to predict how far Clinton County victims will have to travel, or how long they’ll have to wait, and maybe it won’t be that far, or that long.
But clearly, the loss of state and federal funding for our local emergency shelter and other programs will result in the loss of local access for the majority of these services, which will inevitably result in fewer Clinton County victims getting help, and more of our residents getting seriously hurt or even killed, and more of our children suffering the lifelong consequences of being exposed to domestic violence, and more violent crime sucking up more of our local law enforcement officers’ time and resources.
As our Attorney General, Tom Miller’s job is to ensure that Iowa is a safe place for law-abiding citizens to live, work, and raise a family.
Tom Miller is a good man who takes his job seriously, so I am hopeful that he will be willing to reconsider his decision to eliminate funding for many community based programs that provide protection and assistance to some of our most vulnerable citizens.
At the very least, CVAD should push the proposed implementation of the regionalization plan back just one fiscal year, so as to ensure that during the coming session, the Iowa legislature has an opportunity to conduct a full and informed review of the alleged funding problem and the proposed solution.
Regionalizing Iowa’s victim services programs is a big change, and if we’re going to do it, we need to take the time to get it right, because the cost of getting it wrong should be unacceptable to all of us.
Mary Wolfe, a Democrat from Clinton, represents District 26 in the Iowa House of Representatives.