People & Places

In Iowa: Calls for help persist, even if budgets don't

Iowa Sexual Abuse Hotline has seen 647 percent increase in call volume

Alison Gowans, features reporter with The Gazette, taken on Thursday, May 26, 2016. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Alison Gowans, features reporter with The Gazette, taken on Thursday, May 26, 2016. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

The phone rang at all hours of the day and night.

It was 2008, and I was a volunteer for the Rape Victim Advocacy Program in Iowa City. For a couple of days each month, I took home a black bag with a cellphone and a binder of resources and waited for the phone to ring.

And ring it did.

I am a journalist, and I aim for objectivity and non-partisanship. But I also am human, and I can’t pretend to unhear the stories and voices that called over that hotline cellphone all those years ago.

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People don’t call in the middle of the night unless they are desperately in need of someone to talk to. And people didn’t call this particular number any time unless something awful had happened.

The phone was connected to the Iowa Sexual Abuse Hotline. Women and men across the state call the hotline when they were dealing with the worst moments of their lives. Some call in the hours or days after a sexual assault, as they try to process what has happened or figure out what to do next. Others call months or years later, when the emotional scars continue to ache or the memories become too much.

Some callers haven’t been abused themselves but don’t know how to help their friend, their sister, their brother. Some call looking for information. Some call looking for help, which advocates tried to give by empathetic listening but also by providing information about legal options and making connections to other service providers. Many call just to have someone to talk to, someone who won’t judge or look at them with pity or horror.

The hotline, staffed 24/7, also provides an answering service on nights and weekend for other sexual abuse providers around the state.

I write about this now because the funding for the Iowa Sexual Abuse Hotline is gone, and so is funding for two other sexual abuse victims services programs, Iowa ARCH and Transformative Healing.

Earlier this year, the Iowa Legislature cut $1.7 million in funding from the state’s victims services, a 26 percent reduction. As a result, the hotline will be defunded as of Oct. 1.

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Iowa ARCH, hosted by Monsoon United Asian Women of Iowa, provides a statewide online chat service for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, stalking and sex trafficking. Transformative Healing serves LGBTQIA+ sexual abuse survivors. Both also are losing funding.

All are trying to continue their services. The hotline, which in the past two years has experienced a 647 percent increase in call volume and is projected to receive nearly 4,000 calls this fiscal year, is slated to be rolled in the state domestic violence hotline.

However, it was first formed in 1999 to provide more specialized services for sexual abuse survivors. This change moves that progress back. Rape Victim Advocacy Program leaders are trying to raise funds to save the service; learn more at: rvap.uiowa.edu.

Iowa ARCH hopes to continue its chat line after June 30 with the help of volunteers; learn more at facebook.com/iowaARCh. Transformative Healing also is looking at ways to continue its work; learn more at thiowa.org.

I don’t share this to be political. I am a journalist, and I aim for objectivity and non-partisanship. But I also am human, and I can’t pretend to unhear the stories and voices that called over that hotline cellphone all those years ago.

I know there are no easy answers when budgets are tight. I know sometimes tough decisions have to be made. But I also think when we decide to do away with a program that helps our fellow Iowans, when we decide something is no longer a priority, we should look straight at what we are erasing.

We — and the people we elect — shouldn’t pretend all these numbers we’re juggling don’t have voices and consequences behind them. They do.

l Comments: (319) 398-8434; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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