NJCASA Executive Director Andrea Spencer-Linzie: Violence against women a costly concern

As printed at http://www.mycentraljersey.com/article/20120725/NJOPINION0202/307250005

Violence against women a costly concern

Congress is failing victims of violence. They have done nothing to pass the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in the past two months. Without this critical law, victims of violence will lose life-saving protections, including services for dating and sexual violence victims on college campuses, housing protections, protections for victims of sexual violence and prevention programs. We cannot stand for a Congress that refuses to protect victims of violence. It’s simply unacceptable. Congress must act now and pass a law that protects all victims of violence.

Crime victimization costs in the U.S. amount to $450 billion each year, and rape is the costliest crime for its victims. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that sexual violence in the U.S. is a major public health problem. The World Health Organization refers to sexual violence as a critical human rights issue.

The support services provided by Confidential Sexual Violence Advocates (CSVAs) reduce survivors’ trauma and increase use of services. With the support of advocates more survivors report their assaults to the police and they experience less psychological stress and physical health challenges.

Confidential Sexual Violence Advocates in the 21 New Jersey county-based Sexual Violence Programs (SVPs) provide 24-hour response to survivors as well as counseling, legal and medical advocacy, referrals, and more. They provide services to more than 3,500 new survivors each year. For every survivor there are usually family members, loved ones, friends and community members who also need services. SVPs serve more than 2,000 loved ones and others each year.

Yet these numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. The CDC’s 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Surveillance (NISVS) indicates that the U.S. 2010 annual incidence rate of rape for females, 18 years or older, is 1.1 percent, or 1.27 million. If we apply this national incidence percentage of 1.1 percent to New Jersey,approximately 38,000 NJ women (aged 18 years or older) were raped in 2010.

We also know that 42 percent of females experience their first rape before the age of 18, so the 38,000 number above is probably only 58 percent of the females who were raped in 2010. If we apply the national incidence rate of other sexual violence for both women (5.6 percent) and men (5.3 percent) to New Jersey, an estimated 404,000 New Jersey residents experienced rape or other types of sexual violence in 2010.

These are staggering numbers. Yet, the state of New Jersey allocates only $900,000 through its budget to support the services provided by Sexual Violence Programs. This comes to about 10 cents per capita, or around $43,000 per county.

Overall, funding for New Jersey Sexual Violence Programs (SVPs) overall has steadily decreased over the past four years, while costs have remained the same or increased. SVPs have not had the resources to sustain basic services nor to develop specialized services for survivors. Adolescents and people with developmental or intellectual disabilities are at high risk for sexual violence victimization, yet these populations continue to be under-served.

Most SVPs are staffed by 2-4 people. Without consistent and long-term funding, it is difficult for SVPs to sustain core and desperately needed specialized services. It is high time that we acknowledge that sexual violence is a costly public health problem in New Jersey. No family, no community, no school has been untouched by it. Its effects are long-lasting and debilitating.

The vast majority of funding for sexual violence services and prevention efforts in New Jersey are federal funds. If VAWA does not pass in Congress, services to sexual violence survivors in New Jersey will dwindle to dangerous levels.

We all know that passing a VAWA that includes all victims is the right thing to do — spend these last few days prior to Aug. 4 to tell your Congress member to get VAWA passed before they go on vacation.

Andrea Spencer-Linzie

Executive Director

New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NJCASA)