WC SAFE ED Kimberly Hurst discussing resources for sexual assault survivors on the Fatima Salman show on 910 am Superstation.
Wayne County Safe’s Kim Hurst gives Guy Gordon an update on Detroit’s Rape Kits
Organizations that collect evidence for rape kits and offer crisis counseling to victims of domestic and sexual violence are bracing for the possibility of deep funding cuts under President Donald Trump’s federal budget plan.
The leaders of three of Michigan’s largest victim-advocacy organizations — Wayne County SAFE, Turning Point and HAVEN — say they’re scrambling to figure out how they’ll continue to offer the same services if federal grant funds through the Office on Violence Against Women and the Office on Women’s Health end up on the chopping block.
The White House has outlined reductions of $15.1 billion from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the Office on Women’s Health, and $1.8 billion from the U.S. Department of Justice, which runs the Office on Violence Against Women and its 25 grant programs. But it’s unclear which programs will be eliminated or tightened under Trump’s 2018 “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make American Great Again”, said Wyn Hornbuckle, deputy director of the Office of Public Affairs for the Department of Justice.
What is clear, however, is that losing that federal grant funding would be catastrophic to organizations like Turning Point, said CEO Sue Coats. The domestic violence shelter does forensic medical exams after sexual assaults, collects every rape kit in Macomb County, supports victims, provides court advocates who testify in court on behalf of victims and offers counseling, education and a 24-hour help line.
“It would be extremely devastating to our program, and all the work that Turning Point has done in creating and strengthening a safety net for survivors of domestic and sexual violence,” said Coats. “About 65% of our budget is federal funds.” If this part of the federal budget is slashed, Coats said, “the message is that it’s not a priority anymore. It’s taken many years to make it a priority and to get the momentum that many of us across the state as well as the nation have done to improve our community’s response to people who report these crimes and seek help.”
More than $1 million of Wayne County SAFE’s $1.8-million annual budget — 55% — comes from these vulnerable federal grants, and another 33% from state grants, said Kimberly Hurst, founder and executive director of the program, which counsels and does a forensic exam for every rape victim in Wayne County, collects evidence for every rape kit, and was instrumental in handling the more than 11,300 rape kits that were found in a Detroit warehouse in 2009.
“We’re the busiest program in the state by far. … Any survivor of any kind of sexual violence, whether it’s child abuse, incest, sex trafficking, what have you, we’ll provide services” for all of Wayne County, she said. “Now our challenge is to diversify our funding, especially in light of some of the budget cuts that are being proposed at the federal level, which may directly impact our dollars.
“We’re mobilizing as a community, as a movement, as a state to get it out there about how these budget cuts will affect programs and affect victims of crime,” Hurst said. “We just had all this outrage about unsubmitted (rape) kits and unfunded programs, and you’re telling me you’re going to take money away from all these programs?”
About 600 of those original kits remain untested, said Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy. “We are raising the funds for that and not only just for the testing, but for the investigation and prosecution; we will be submitting the rest to be tested,” said Worthy, who called Wayne County SAFE vital to the work of processing those kits, notifying and counseling victims as well as testifying on cases as they were prosecuted.
“There is no way we would be where we are with our project without them,” she said. “It would be impossible. It would be a nightmare.”
Amna Osman, president and CEO of HAVEN, said the Pontiac-based organization is a one-stop shop for victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse and assault in Oakland County. It provides services to 20,000 people annually through the its 24-hour crisis help line. It also offers a shelter, which houses up to 60 people at a time, advocacy, legal support, violence prevention and education efforts.
HAVEN stands to lose 38% of its $3.4-million budget if those federal grant dollars disappear, and is strategizing for potential cuts.
“It’s really important that people know domestic violence and sexual assault is happening in our communities,'” Osman said. “It’s impacting 1 in 3 Michigan households. It’s really important that we build awareness of those issues, and support agencies like HAVEN to be able to continue to provide services in a comprehensive way to survivors.
“There’s a lot of trauma, and I think the important thing is having to relive that trauma over and over again has really negative consequences to the individuals. So It’s really important that they’re able to receive those services, whether it’s support in the courtroom, or being able to receive counseling, being able to come to our residential program that are providing safety to them.”
All three agencies provide their services free to survivors. The question is whether that would be able to continue under heavy cuts to the federal budget.
Nicole Navas, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice, said more details about the president’s budget plan should be coming later this spring.
Advocates are concerned the Trump administration will use a budget outline from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank from which Paul Winfree, one of Trump’s top economic advisers, rose.The foundation issued a similarly named 2018 budget proposal, the “Blueprint for Balance” plan, which suggests eliminating federal Violence Against Women Act grants.
Until more details are released, Wayne County SAFE, HAVEN and Turning Point are trying to rally support through fund-raisers, and are encouraging people to call lawmakers to make it clear that they support federal funding for the work they do.
“We’re taking part in some national discussions around how can we mobilize as a movement and be educated and understand what does all this really mean, to not panic, but take action,” said Hurst. “Part of what we’re attempting to do, at least in our community, is to reach out to our representatives, to our senators to let them know that this is who we are. … and share our story, share survivors’ stories, and let them know what our community would look like if we weren’t here.
“Really, it’s on them to make decisions that are going to benefit their constituents, their family, their friends, their daughters, their sons. This is not an issue that’s far away for anybody.”
Contact Kristen Jordan Shamus: 313-222-5997 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @kristenshamus.
How to be heard
To express your views, you can reach out to U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow by calling 202-224-4822 or sending her a message through her website: https://www.stabenow.senate.gov/contact. To reach U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, call 202-224-6221 or send him a message through his website: https://www.peters.senate.gov/contact/email-gary.
To find contact information for your representative in the U.S. House, go to http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/ and enter your zip code.
How to donate
- HAVEN: You can donate by calling 248-322-3703 or online at www.haven-oakland.org. You an also support HAVEN by purchasing tickets or a sponsorship for its Hero Gala, which is set for 6:30 p.m. May 5 at the Troy Marriott, 20 W. Big Beaver, Troy.
- Turning Point: You can donate by going to Turning Point’s website, www.turningpointmacomb.org or by sending donations to Turning Point Inc., P.O. Box 1123, Mt. Clemens, 48046. You can also support Turning Point by purchasing tickets to LunaFest, a film festival established in 2000, shining the spotlight on the work of female filmmakers. The event is set for 7-10 p.m. April 27 at the Macomb Emerald Theatre, 31. N Walnut Street, Mt. Clemens.
- Wayne County SAFE: You can donate by online by going to Wayne County SAFE’s website, wcsafe.kindful.com. You can also support the organization by attending its fourth annual VOICES Art Exhibition, which is to showcase sexual assault survivors and their artistic expression of healing through music, dance, paint, sketch, and other visual media. The event is set for 6-9 p.m. April 14 at Holding House, 3546 Michigan Ave., Detroit.
How to get help
If you or someone you know is being abused or the victim of sexual assault, there is help:
- In Detroit, the YWCA Interim House is a domestic and sexual violence shelter that provides safe refuge along with food, clothing, advocacy and counseling to victims of abuse. Its 24-hour crisis line is 313-861-5300. For more details, go to: http://bit.ly/1TCBH4A
- In Macomb County, Turning Point offers a 24-hour help hotline at 586-463-6990. The agency also offers an emergency shelter for victims and their children, counseling, advocacy, safety planning and more. Details: turningpointmacomb.org.
- In Oakland County, HAVEN offers a 24-hour toll-free crisis line at 877-922-1274, along with live chatting on its website, www.haven-oakland.org. The agency also offers emergency shelter for victims and their children, counseling, advocacy, safety planning and more.
- In western Wayne County and Downriver, First Step has a 24-hour help hotline at 734-722-6800 or 888-453-5900. The agency also offers emergency short-term housing for victims, counseling, support, safety planning, advocacy and more. Learn more at: www.firststep-mi.org.
- In Wayne County, victims of sexual assault can call Wayne County SAFE’s crisis pager. Advocates are available 24 hours a day to provide crisis intervention and support at its clinic sites. A forensic examiner and advocate work together to provide rape kit testing, offer support, information, resources and referrals to survivors and their families. Learn more at: http://wcsafe.org.
- In Ann Arbor, Safe House Center offers a 24-hour crisis line at 734-995-5444. The agency also offers emergency shelter, counseling, support, safety planning, advocacy and more. Learn more at: www.safehousecenter.org.
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline also has a toll-free 24-hour crisis line: 800-799-7233.
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy speaks openly about being sexually assaulted while she attended college at Notre Dame. Mandi Wright/Detroit Free Press Mandi Wright/Detroit Free Press
Thousands of boxes of evidence sat untested in a Detroit Police Department storage unit for years as the rapists whose DNA was inside roamed free.
More than 11,300 were left there, some untested for decades, while the assaults kept happening, while more people became victims. Some of the perpetrators were serial rapists, and went on to attack as many as 10 or 15 more times.
The kits were discovered in 2009, and since then, there has been an ongoing effort to raise the money needed to process each kit, investigate the cases and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Seven years later, about 600 of those rape kits remain untested, said Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy. But among the kits that have been through the testing process, 784 serial sexual offenders were discovered in 40 states.
Active investigations are under way for 334 of the suspects and at least 1,042 others are awaiting investigation. Seventy-eight people have been convicted so far.
It’s been slow and tedious work, said Kimberly Hurst, the founder and executive director of Wayne County Safe, which does the forensic exams of sexual assault victims in Wayne County and collects the evidence for rape kits.
“It is frustrating that it has taken this long,” Hurst said, explaining that once Wayne County Safe collects the evidence, the kits are sealed and then sent off to a lab for processing. If a DNA match is found, police and prosecutors work to bring that person to justice. Wayne County Safe often works with the victims with counseling and support, and often testifies on the evidence in court.
“Nothing is quick, and nothing is instant,” Hurst said. “This brought about a culture change, and anything that shifts the culture takes time. This has been revolutionary for all the agencies involved.”
The discovery of Detroit’s untested kits sparked a national discussion of the problem, and cities around America went looking to see whether they, too, had untested kits. As many as 400,000 were found nationally in cities as far away as Las Vegas and Dallas and as nearby as Toledo, according to Enough SAID, which was formed in 2015 as an independent collaboration among the Michigan Women’s Foundation, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office and the Detroit Crime Commission to help resolve this issue in Detroit.
One reason it has taken so long to process all these rape kits is money, Worthy said. It costs about $1,500 to process each rape kit. In 2014, the Detroit Crime Commission negotiated a lower per-kit testing rate, reducing the cost to $490. But additional funding is needed to investigate and prosecute cases as well.
Enough SAID is helping to address the need for money to process these rape kits and see them prosecuted, as is the African-American 490 Challenge. To donate to the cause or learn more about Enough SAID and the African American 490 Challenge, go to www.aa490challenge.org/index.html or www.miwf.org/enough-said.