Even as reaction to Gov. Rick Scott’s veto of $1.5 million for Florida’s rape crisis centers was going viral online, the governor was attending a Crime Victims’ Rights Week event hosted by Attorney General Pam Bondi, reports Margie Menzel of the News Service of Florida.
“These crime victims never, ever forget what happened to them,” Bondi told the crowd. “It lives with them every day for the rest of their lives…I know, as a 20-year prosecutor, that we could not get through it without our victim advocates.”
The day before, the liberal Huffington Post had run the headline, “Governor Rick Scott Vetoes Funds For Rape Crisis Centers During Sexual Assault Awareness Month.”
The article said “state lawmakers allotted the money to offset an increase in need and a lack of sufficient funding for victim services.” It also quoted Jennifer Dritt, director of the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence, as saying she was “stunned” and “confused” by the governor’s response.
After the victims’ rights event, Scott was asked how he squared his support for victims with his veto.
“That money was in addition to what we were already doing,” the governor replied. “We’ve increased funding for domestic violence. We have money that goes into the rape crisis centers already, so it was additional money that we’ve already funded.”
Scott’s spokesman, Lane Wright, said this week that the state already pays about $6.5 million for rape crisis and other sexual violence programs, and there was no information suggesting a need for more. That’s on top of about $29 million for domestic violence shelters.
Media statewide heard from local service providers, from the Betty Griffin House in St. Johns County to the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay. There, center official Michele Wykes invited Scott to come work a day at the center. “I would sit him down very calmly and really, truly try to educate him,” Wykes told Tampa’s WTSP.
The publicity comes as Scott starts to ramp up his 2014 re-election bid, and while Republicans and Democrats spar over the women’s vote – with nationwide “War on Women” marches planned for Saturday and Congressional reauthorization of the federal Violence Against Women Act hanging in the balance.
But politics aside, the policy question at the heart of the conflict is whether domestic violence and rape crisis services are the same.
“I don’t consider it a duplication of services,” said state Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, who has criticized Scott on other bill actions, “and I think [the $1.5 million] was a very worthy item to be funded.”
“It’s clear to me that someone gave him bad advice,” said state Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico. “There are so many reasons why domestic violence centers are not always the appropriate centers for rape crisis services.”
In many cases the two overlap, Storms said, because rape is frequently involved in partner abuse. The correlation is 60 percent, according to Dritt of the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence.
But Storms and Dritt both said that for rape victims, a different set of services is needed: confidential forensics, STD/HIV testing and other medical care, trauma counseling and help negotiating the criminal justice system, which many women describe as a second rape.
Dritt said Florida’s waiting list for sexual assault services is three weeks to three months. One program serving several rural counties can’t afford a nurse examiner, so victims must go to hospital emergency rooms for forensic exams.
“As rape exams are considered emergencies, victims must wait up to 8 hours after the assault for an exam,” she said. “This means they can’t shower, drink anything or go to the bathroom for that long, as to do so could destroy evidence.”
Palm Beach County Tax Collector Anne Gannon, a former Democratic state representative, said she recalls when it was “a terrible struggle” for establish the need for rape crisis services in the first place.
“How do you assess the damage to that person’s life?” she asked. “The counseling is critically important for the person to become whole and a productive member of society.”
And the need is still far from being met, Gannon said.
“We have all these rape kits that are sitting up on the shelf that have never been analyzed because there’s no funding to do it in our police departments and crime labs.”
Coming up Friday, Scott will have a related decision: He is expected to act on legislation (HB 1355,) which would require certain educational institutions and law enforcement agencies to report suspected child abuse, abandonment or neglect.
It would also provide $1.5 million for the relocation of sexual assault victims away from their accused rapist.