There is no excuse for not fully funding the Rape Prevention and Education Program

There is no excuse for not fully funding the Rape Prevention and Education Program
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Rape crisis hotline phones won’t stop ringing. Crisis counselors are overbooked. Schools want help developing curriculums around healthy relationships and gender norms. Men are stepping forward to ask for training and advice on how to become better allies. According to the Department of Justice, 40 percent of rape prevention programs have a waiting list of a month or more.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, rape crisis centers, sexual assault coalitions, and other public and private entities are facing an unprecedented demand for their services. There is no doubt that these groups are uniquely positioned to turn the tide on a sexual violence epidemic we’re only beginning to comprehend.

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But they are vastly overworked and underfunded.

 

Congress is in a position to change that right now. The federally funded Rape Prevention and Education Program is up for reauthorization, which means lawmakers have a chance to increase funds to a level that matches the public’s demand for lasting societal change. Stopping sexual violence before it occurs is the cornerstone of the Rape Prevention and Education Program, which funds prevention programs in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and six U.S. territories. Legislation reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act is currently in draft form, but has yet to be introduced.We need champions to step forward.

Although we’ve seen some modest increases in appropriations in recent years, the fact is that current authorization levels don’t even come close to addressing the magnitude of the problem.

In 2013, Congress cut Rape Prevention & Education Program funding from $80 million to $50 million. In order to even come close to fulfilling skyrocketing demand in 2018, Congress needs to increase the Rape Prevention & Education Program authorization to at least $150 million.

A 2011 study found that approximately 1 in 5 women in the United States have experienced rape or attempted rape in their lifetime. Close to half of all women have experienced other forms of sexual violence ranging from sexual coercion to unwanted sexual contact or experiences. Those numbers predate the #MeToo movement and could actually be much higher now that more women are speaking up and sharing their experiences for the first time.

Congress needs to invest more in a program that has delivered proven results. Rape Prevention & Education programs provide comprehensive services that draw from a public health model that address the way individual, relationship, community and societal factors impact sexual violence; this science-based and multidisciplinary approach is more likely to prevent sexual violence across a lifetime than any single intervention. 

Those fiscally minded lawmakers who might be hesitant to increase funding should consider the cost of inaction. Besides the heavy emotional toll sexual violence takes on victims, one state alone, Iowa, the total cost of sexual violence is calculated to be $4.7 billion — approximately $1,580 per resident. Research shows that the lifetime economic burden of rape is as high as $122,000 per victim. 

#MeToo opened our eyes as a nation to the prevalence of sexual violence and started holding a jaw-dropping number of men accountable for their predatory actions. #TimesUp has made some impressive initial strides in shifting the mindset from anger and awareness to action in our legal system.

So far, however, Congress has been off the hook for the millions of girls and boys who have been deprived of rape prevention services due to lack of funding. Just like society turned a blind eye to gender-based violence and exploitation, the budget cuts, layoffs, shrinking programs and overburdened staffs of sexual violence prevention organizations have gone largely unnoticed except by those who need them the most. The lack of investment in prevention to programs to end harassment and violence against women hasn’t been met with the outrage and outcry it deserves. But times have changed. 

One thing is for sure: If Congress fails to authorize additional funds for the Rape Prevention & Education Program in this new climate, that silence won’t last for long.

Terri Poore is the policy director for the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence.