Saffron Restaurants reservation Sexual assault survivors in Iowa City will be harmed by the program’s closure

Sexual assault survivors in Iowa City will be harmed by the program’s closure

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Combining sexual assault and domestic violence programs is a disservice to survivors of sexual violence, to those who serve them, and to the neighbors of the Rape Victim Advocacy Program.

As the University of Iowa celebrates its women’s athletics programs, it is choosing to close one of the nation’s oldest rape crisis centers. The University of Iowa has announced that it plans to close the Rape Victim Advocacy Program, RVAP, and says its services will be absorbed by the Domestic Violence Intervention Program. Founded in 1973, RVAP has long been one of the strongest programs in Iowa.

The University of Iowa, a research institution, did not do its homework at all before making this decision.

I was the executive director of the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault, a coalition of all rape crisis programs in Iowa, for 32 years, until July 2023. I and my colleagues participated in two major initiatives whose findings have long been publicly available. The Office on Violence Against Women funded a four-year national study because dual sexual assault and domestic violence programs rarely met the needs of sexual assault victims.

The findings, published in 2017, found, among other things, that domestic violence programs focused on providing tangible support, such as housing, restraining orders and ongoing legal assistance, and were inadequate for providing the ongoing emotional support that survivors of sexual violence need. Most programs lacked a clear organizational identity as a sexual violence program. Victims and third-party referral agency programs did not view dual agencies as sexual assault services.

In 2013, a statewide initiative from the Iowa Attorney General’s office, the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence, decided to restructure services in Iowa and create separate sexual assault services . Survivors of sexual violence needed more targeted services. Creating separate services became a national model. Between FY 2014 and FY 2019, there was a 275% increase in the number of sexual assault survivors (from 4,431 to 16,621).

Since services were restructured in 2014, the Rape Victim Advocacy Program has been funded with both state and federal funds to provide services to eight counties. The discussion about RVAP’s closure has drawn commentary on those who may not be University of Iowa students. A major research institution, like the University of Iowa, has an obligation to share its considerable knowledge and capacity to help with its neighbors.

Combining sexual assault and domestic violence programs is a disservice to sexual assault survivors, those who serve them, and RVAP’s neighbors. Women’s athletics are celebrated, while closing a program to help many who are hurting is a mistake. Terrible call, University of Iowa.

Elizabeth Barnhill is the former director of the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

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