Laura Washington: Budget stalemate hurts survivors of rape

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Follow @MediaDervishWhat will life be like for rape victims? Polly Poskin wonders.Poskin, executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, is calling for an end to the interminable budget stalemate that is jeopardizing help for rape survivors.For nearly seven months, the budgets of non-profits, social service agencies and universities have been held hostage by a political gridlock of historic proportions. The politicians in Springfield have refused to pass a budget.Rape victims, are traumatized, violated and often alone. Rape crisis centers are their lifeline. Now those centers are on life support.OPINION

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“We serve 18,000 victims a year.  What will their lives be like?  How will they continue to get the support they need?”  Poskin asked.The centers provide tender understanding to women and men traumatized by sexual violence.  Counselors and advocates are there 24/7, at the hospital, the police station, at the other end of a rape crisis hotline.Illinois’ 29 centers depend on a mix of federal and state funds; 45 percent of their government funding comes from Illinois.  In the 2016 fiscal year, that comes to about $5.6 million.  The centers have not seen a penny, Poskin said.“If this money isn’t appropriated, these rape crisis centers will have to close down,” some, as soon as next month, she added.“I am concerned, and scared.”Deyon Myles was more than scared when she was raped four years ago.

“I felt suicidal,” she said last week in an interview. “If these women can’t get the access to much needed help, they might be suicidal as well.”

Myles, then 23, was staying at a friend’s high-rise in Chicago. As she walked to the apartment, the building’s maintenance man accosted her, forced her into the unit, and raped her.  She fought back, but felt trapped.

Then he left.  “He went about his day, continuing to work as if nothing happened,” she recalled.

Myles was afraid to leave the 25th floor apartment.  She called her boyfriend, eventually got out.  She reported it to the police, went to the hospital.

She later found out her attacker was on the sex offenders list and “had done this before.”  But Cook County prosecutors declined to file charges, saying it was a case of “he said, she said.”

Some friends blamed her for not doing enough to escape.  Others wondered if it was consensual.

She was always scared, on the street, on the train.  “I thought I saw him everywhere.”

“I had stopped talking to people. …I was in a downward spiral.”

She was a DePaul University freshman, with no money for private counseling.

Her mother helped her find a south suburban rape counseling center run by the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago.  The services were free, and for Myles, priceless.

“I think that, without these counseling services, I would not know where I would be today.”

The YWCA center was a friendly, safe space. She still attends regular, one-hour sessions with her counselor, Addie Johnson, who “helped me to branch out of this shell, that I have to put all this into context,” Myles said.  “I could still do things without him having power over me. I got my power back.”

Myles is shocked by the finger-pointing and rancor in Springfield.  “To even think that something like this is on the table, to cut this budget, is mind boggling.”

Today, a press conference will bring together state legislators and supporters of rape crisis centers to appeal for an end to the budget battles.

Myles has courage.  If only our “leaders” in Springfield did.


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