With Growing Reports of Sexual Violence, Santa Clara County Weighs $5 Million Fund to Help Survivors

'The services that I should have been provided, I found were sparse to none. I had to go looking on my own,' a woman who identified herself only as Michelle told the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors on May 21, 2019. (Screenshot of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors hearing)

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors is weighing whether to create a $5 million reserve fund to prevent gender-based violence in the community and to help survivors, with law enforcement and local leaders saying reports of such attacks are on the rise.

The board voted on Tuesday to send the proposal to the county administration, which will bring back options during the budget hearings in June. Recommendations for the funding include more shelters, a sexual assault survivor app and a pilot program with local law enforcement agencies to transport victims of strangulation to Valley Medical Center for a forensic medical exam.

“What's unfortunate about this is we shouldn't be asking for this money right now. It should be in our budgets. I should be asking for more money, not the basics. And that's really what we're doing with this $5 million,” Supervisor Cindy Chavez, who co-sponsored the proposal, said Monday.

“These are ... perilous times for women in our community,” she added. “Particularly because, at a national level under the leadership of President Trump, they've been trying, his administration, to chip away at services for women, for reproductive health rights and for LGBTQ services.”

Several advocates for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, as well as leaders in the LGBTQ community, encouraged the board to move ahead with the reserve. The county administration must provide an implementation plan to the board no later than September 2019.

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“There has always been a quiet war on women in this country when you look at the rates of sexual assault and violence committed against women. It has been a quiet war. It is no longer a quiet war on women. When we look at how the rates have increased and we look at the policies that are being put in place, there can be no doubt that there is a war on women in this country,” said Erin O’Brien, president and CEO of Community Solutions, which serves 10,000 survivors of gender-based violence a year.

Law enforcement and some advocates have reported a rise in sexual violence in Santa Clara County: The San Jose Police Department in April shared 2014-2018 data with the board, reporting 1,715 rapes and 3,500 child molestation incidents and predicting a steady increase for both crimes in 2019.

The Sexual Assault Forensic Exam (SAFE) program at Valley Medical Center in April said it has experienced a steady increase in the number of exams in the last few years, and, in 2019, they’ve already seen a 35% increase in the number of cases compared to this time last year.

The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office has seen a 20% increase in sexual assault cases it reviewed from 2017 to 2018, said Assistant District Attorney Terry Harman.

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“We've seen the number of reported rapes in our community just go through the roof. So I think number one, people are asking for more help. Number two, we're making sure that the leaders here are ensuring that help is there,” said Tanis Crosby, executive director of YWCA Silicon Valley, which provides support services to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking.

One survivor of sexual assault, who gave her name only as Michelle, said she was still dealing with PTSD from her attack.

“I am a strong woman and this one action has just changed me to the cellular level,” she said, her voice shaking, as she addressed the board. “And the services that I should have been provided, I found were sparse to none. I had to go looking on my own.

“I was so afraid to leave my house. I was a prisoner within my own self,” she added. “And to think of all the women that go through this and children that have to go through this, and don't have the capacity to communicate what they're feeling. It just kills me inside.”

Got a news tip or comment? Email the reporter: mleitsinger@kqed.org. You can also reach her on the encrypted communications app, Signal: 650-888-2765.

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