The Victim Services sexual assault advocate, known as Rachel or “Elle,” who was assigned to Knox County for the last 14 months will no longer hold that position due to budget constraints and depleted stimulus money.
Dean of Students Debbie Southern said that if a sexual assault victim calls the hotline, someone will always come, as in years past before the position in Galesburg was created, but the victim’s advocate will now be coming from outside the county.
“There’s always somebody that’s going to respond,” Southern said. “To be able to have somebody who is trained in an expert way with sexual assault and to have our students be able to talk to that person to get information, resources, advice, legal and medical advocacy is definitely important to campus.”
According to the WIRC website, the Victim Services program provides “free and confidential services in a safe environment with knowledgeable staff members who are ready to provide emergency services, advocacy, counseling, professional training and public education.”
Rachel (Victim Services advocates do not use their last names) was assigned to Knox County after the Western Illinois Regional Council-Community Action Agency (WIRC-CAA) Victim Services program applied for a federal grant through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, according to Director Diane Mayfield.
Mayfield said they decided to assign Rachel, also a Knox graduate, to Knox County since it did not have a victims’ advocate and had been using the services based in Macomb, Ill. But the grant money was only designed to last one year, and it is expected that the recipient find the money to maintain that position after the life of the grant.
“We were able to keep Rachel in Knox County for an additional two months from a Galesburg Community Foundation grant and some donations, but we were not able to maintain that,” Mayfield said. “Money is tight. Both the state and federal governments are cutting left and right.”
Mayfield said the staff in her Macomb office has been cut to eight employees from 12 in 2009, but that will not affect their ability to respond to crisis calls.
“We’re still here if people need us,” Mayfield said.
For the time being, Knox students, faculty and staff and Galesburg community members can still call the 24-hour crisis line at (309) 837-5555, and it is likely that the responder would come from the Warren County office, which is based in Monmouth and includes a victims’ advocate and legal counseling.
Mayfield said their ultimate goal is to have a WIRC-CAA satellite office in Galesburg, which would include both a victims’ advocate and a counselor. She has heard concerns from the Galesburg community that this service would benefit the area, but there remains the issue of funding the program.
Southern said even though Knox County is not covered by WIRC-CAA, the organization has always served as a resource for the county and the college community, and Mayfield has come to campus in the past to train the Office of Student Development staff in basic sexual assault counseling in crisis situations.
“The faculty and staff ask a lot, ‘What am I supposed to say? What are we supposed to do when someone approaches us?’ And [Mayfield] has a nice general education presentation she gives that will cover some of that information,” Southern said. “And I think that helps some people feel better about dealing with an issue that’s really complicated and kind of scary.”