By Young Soo YangWhen someone walks into a hospital to report a rape, the hospital activates a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART). That team consists of a trained nurse, someone from the sheriff’s office, and a rape crisis advocate.
Provided by one of the rape care centers located throughout the state, the advocate stays with the victim at the hospital throughout the entire medical process. The advocate also informs the victim that he or she has a choice in whether to respond when a police officer arrives. In addition to advice and support, the advocate provides a care package which includes a warmup suit, underwear and toiletries because a victim may have to leave his/her clothes as evidence.
For one county, the ability to provide this service is in jeopardy. The Essex County Rape Care Center (ECRCC), a program of Family Service League Inc. (FSL), is facing its greatest challenge since it was founded in 2004. Founder Ursula Liebowitz is now the Center’s only paid staff member. Due to budget constraints, Liebowitz had to lay-off staff and now relies solely on a team of 17 volunteers to operate a 24/7 hotline and accompany victims to the hospital and the police department. In addition to being on call every night including weekends, she is busy applying for grants, conducting trainings, serving as a therapist and attending meetings.
Liebowitz is quick to praise her volunteers. “My advocates get up in the middle of the night to go to a hospital in an unfamiliar neighborhood.”
That kind of dedication is hard to find. “It’s very difficult to get and keep volunteers so we had to pay people to be on the hotline which took away from the funding.” Although the situation is dire for the ECRRC, Liebowitz realizes that other rape crisis centers throughout the state face similar fiscal challenges. “I don’t know of a rape care center that is fully-funded,” she says.
While rape care centers throughout New Jersey receive grants from the state, private donations — corporate and individual — are critical sources of supplemental funding. But unlike cancer research and other popular causes, services for sexual assault victims are often overlooked when it comes to giving, especially during an economic downturn. Says Claudia Retzlaff, CEO of the Atlantic County Women’s Center, “we are all competing for the same charitable dollars and it’s a matter of getting your message out and having it tug at the strings of the community members with the power to give.”
For Retzlaff, that message is a harder sell when it comes to services for sexual assault, saying “it’s very hard when you’re dealing with a topic that people recoil at talking about.” According to Liebowitz, “sexual violence is where domestic violence was 20 years ago. It’s still a taboo subject. People don’t talk about it. People don’t want to be associated with it.”
For Liebowitz, providing assistance to victims of sexual assault is too important to allow the ECRCC to close. “A woman is raped in the U.S. every two minutes. It’s the number one under-reported crime which means it’s even more than that.” Although the majority of sexual assaults are reported by women, the Center serves all victims including men and adolescents. Says Liebowitz, “1 in 6 boys by the time he reaches the age of sixteen will be the victim of sexual violence . . . How can you cut funding for a program that is so desperately needed?”
Currently located at 204 Claremont Ave. in Montclair, FSL and ECRCC will have to look for another location in Essex County to house their operations. FSL has put its building up for sale to raise money.
New Jersey Department of Community Affairs’ Division on Women:
NJ’s Sexual Violence Programs by County
Essex County Rape Care Center:
24 Hr. Hotline: 1-877-733-CARE 
Office: (973) 746-0800
Donation checks for the Essex County Rape Care Center should be made payable to:
“Family Service League, 204 Claremont Ave., Montclair, N.J., 07042”
Secure donations can also be made online at www.familyserviceleague.info
Atlantic County Women’s Center:
Atlantic County Women’s Center
Violence Intervention Program
Northfield, NJ 08225
24 Hr. Hotline: (609) 646-6767
Toll free: 1-800-286-4184
TTY: (609) 645-2909