Crises unsupported

Rape Crisis operating bare bones since losing state and city funding

For the past 24 years, Rocky Cruz, program director of Rape Crisis Prevention and Intervention, has worked tirelessly on behalf of victims of sexual violence.

For the past 24 years, Rocky Cruz, program director of Rape Crisis Prevention and Intervention, has worked tirelessly on behalf of victims of sexual violence.

Photo by Howard Hardee

Rocky Cruz gets two or three hours of sleep on a good night. As the program director at Rape Crisis Intervention and Prevention in Chico, she’s on call 24 hours a day for 11 months of the year.

Much of the sleep she’s lost over the past two decades with Rape Crisis is due to the intensive nature of her work. A victim of sexual violence could call the 24-hour crisis line at any time, and Cruz always makes herself available to victims through every step of the process—emergency room forensic exams, interviews with law enforcement, court appearances, finding temporary housing, and meeting with the victim’s family.

“I sleep when I can, and I’m tired most of the time, but I feel very fortunate,” she said. “I love my job. It doesn’t feel like work.”

Even so, the last year has been particularly straining for the staff at Rape Crisis. Past sources of funding have been withdrawn, and it’s not like the nonprofit based in north Chico was overflowing with money to begin with. As Cruz explained, rape intervention and prevention isn’t a warm-and-fuzzy cause that draws many charitable donations.

“It’s not like helping animals,” she said. “It’s not something people are willing to give for.”

In the statewide context, California’s rape crisis centers are critically underfunded compared with agencies dedicated to a similar cause. Last year, 103 domestic-violence centers in the state shared about $20 million in state funding, according to the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. Meanwhile, 84 rape-crisis centers were allotted a total of $45,000. Based on nearly 30,000 victims of sexual violence served by those agencies in 2012, that equates to about $1.50 of state funding per survivor.

“There’s this disparity with money for sexual violence, even though it’s a component of domestic violence; it happens in intimate partner-relationships,” Cruz said.

What’s worse, that $45,000 was divvied up among just 29 of California’s rape-crisis centers. As a result, Rape Crisis in Chico, the only state-certified agency of its kind serving Butte, Glenn and Tehama counties, received zero state funding in 2014.

However, since most of the organization’s financial support comes from the federal government, missing out on that money wasn’t the end of the world, Cruz said. She had anticipated that and budgeted accordingly by cutting all printing and advertising.

“We planned for the worst but hoped for the best,” she said. “When we lost state funding, we were saddened, it was a disappointment, be we had prepared for it.

“What we were not ready for was [losing funding from] the city of Chico.”

For 17 years leading up to 2014, the city had awarded varying amounts of funding to Rape Crisis through its community grant program, handing down as much as $30,000. But over the last few years, as the depth of the city’s financial troubles became clear, funding began to dwindle. In 2013, Rape Crisis was allotted about $18,000—a windfall Cruz didn’t take for granted.

“We understood that they were in a budget crunch,” she said, “so we worked with whatever they gave us.”

But in 2014, a multitude of community organizations and arts groups were informed that the city’s financial support would be drastically reduced. Whereas the total amount allotted to community and arts organizations in June 2013 was $207,243, former City Manager Brian Nakamura had recommended that arts and community funding amount to no more than $25,000—for all organizations—in 2014-15.

On July 24, Cruz received a letter from former Mayor Scott Gruendl denying Rape Crisis’ application for the grant funding.

“The city of Chico appreciates your proposal,” the letter reads. “However, I regret to inform you that your application was not selected for the community grant program this year. I sincerely appreciate your efforts in applying.” The letter said each proposal was reviewed based on “alignment with the city’s goals and plans, and the focus on specifically serving Chico residents.”

The rejection was a major blow to Rape Crisis. The agency’s staff has been reduced from 20 full-time employees to six full-time and five part-time employees, including the elimination of three counselors and a grant-writer position. And there’s no longer anyone working on prevention efforts such as outreach and education in area schools.

Perhaps most important, it often takes longer for a representative from Rape Crisis to respond to victims in emergency, Cruz said, because sometimes nobody is available. She’s also been forced to cut back how many free counseling sessions the agency offers.

Suffice to say, the situation has been frustrating for Cruz and her colleagues.

“I’ve wanted to go out and bitch and moan and be nasty,” she said. “But everyone has told me, ‘Rocky, you can’t burn any bridges. You have to be careful of what you say.’ I’m like, ‘There’s no bridge to burn.’”

Nonetheless, Cruz is working tirelessly to renew support in Rape Crisis’ cause. Lately, she’s been making regular trips to Sacramento to advocate at the state level for more funding for California’s rape-crisis centers. And she’s not alone. The California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, for instance, announced in January that it’s pushing for the state to match the $20 million annually awarded to domestic violence organizations.

“We don’t want money to be taken away from domestic-violence support,” Cruz said. “But if you’re going to give them $20 million, give us $20 million.”

Cruz isn’t holding her breath waiting for city funding to return, but vows that Rape Crisis will continue providing a voice for victims of sexual violence—as it did for 600 people last year.

“I teach to the counselors here: We can’t fix or save anybody. We don’t have the answers. But we can be constant.”