budget cuts threaten services at rape and crime victims’
Laurie Lynn Fischer
Schaible has been on both ends of the phone line of the
Albany County Crime Victim and Sexual Violence Center hotline.
She was molested as a six-year-old. Years later, the company
where she worked was cutting positions. Feelings from childhood
bubbled back up.
was having very difficult emotional memories,” she says.
“This powerful organization had control over my life. I
was like that six-year-old child again, being abused. ”
The center was her salvation. Thanks to the counseling she
received, she was able to overcome deep depression, earn
an advanced degree and lead a productive life.
was a puddle on the floor,” she says. “I was a mess. God
knows where I’d be if it were not for the center, and I
say this unequivocally. These people deserve ten times the
amount of money they earn. It’s incredible how they help
people and what they do for people.”
CVSVC pulled her back from the brink. She wanted to pay
it forward, so she took the training course to become a
counselor on the 24-hour sexual assault hotline.
through the training and helping other people also helped
me heal,” says Schaible. “Listening to other people’s pain
on the other end of the phone, trying to help them and knowing
the right thing to say is an art.”
Albany County department for 34 of its 35 years, CVSVC provides
free services to a broad spectrum of sexual violence victims,
from incest victims to battered moms. Clients have been
raped, stalked, sexually abused or harassed. They have suffered
from child molestation, assault or attempted murder.
Some of these victims either have no insurance or couldn’t
swing the co-pays. Others turn to the center for its seasoned
team of confidential therapists. All four trauma therapists
on staff are at least ten-year veterans.
Center workers advocate for victims in police stations and
emergency rooms. They provide counseling and give public
Now, the center’s future is in jeopardy. Albany County’s
preliminary 2011 budget cut funding for the CVSVC by 20
Unless the County Legislature acts, CVSVC’s budget will
dive from $930,842 this year to $739,556 next year. That’s
a difference of $191,286.
Where is all that money going to come from? Three positions—the
head of volunteers, one therapist and an administrative
aide—will be eliminated through early retirement and layoffs,
Albany County Executive Michael Breslin says.
And after three months or 12 counseling sessions, therapy
to victims will be cut off, he says.
we’re focusing on the short-term crisis therapy,” he says.
“We’ll make every effort to have those individuals referred
to other agencies that could more appropriately deal with
the situation in the long term.”
The center’s staff has already been shrinking. Seventeen
strong at its maximum, the paid workforce there was down
to 13 after a therapist accepted a cash incentive and left
The center’s deputy director is already poised to retire.
She coordinates and trains the two dozen volunteers who
provide crisis counseling services on the 24-hour hotline
and support victims in emergency rooms, police stations
The two other employees have until the end of 2010 to accept
or reject the early retirement packages they have been offered,
Workers at CVSVC say they aren’t allowed to talk to the
But since August, hundreds of people have rallied behind
CVSVC on the Facebook page that longtime center advocate
Janice Irwin set up: Save Albany County Crive Victim and
Sexual Violence Center.
Will everyone who dials that hotline number get the help
they need in the future? Center supporters don’t think so.
Without a lifeline, trauma victims often stop caring for
themselves and their families. They may commit suicide or
wind up in psychiatric treatment facilities or substance
the crime victim rape crisis center were impacted, that
would be devastating,” says John Crowe, a certified sexual
abuse counselor with 30 years of experience. The Delaware
Avenue therapist is himself a survivor of sexual abuse.
everybody can afford to see someone like me in private practice,”
says Crowe. “Not every practitioner out there is skilled
in working with sexual abuse survivors. It takes a tremendous
act of courage for either a man or a woman to work on this
kind of trauma.”
years, even decades, people who had experienced sexual violence
were in the mental health and substance abuse treatment
systems without the issue ever being raised,” he says. “The
crime victim sexual assault center puts itself out there
as the place where this issue will definitively be dealt
essential for people to have a safe space to do this work.
When I say safe, I mean that people will understand, empathize
and get it. American society as a whole is in complete denial
that sexual violence is epidemic in our country.”
Rape happens more often than you’d think. According to estimates
by the F.B.I. and The Journal of Traumatic Stress,
one in every four college aged women experiences a rape
or attempted rape. In the population at large, the sexual
assault rate is one in three women, one in four girls, one
in six boys and one in 11 men. That translates to one sexual
assault every 90 seconds.
Even so, rape tends to be under- reported. Many official
counts document only man-on-woman assaults. They exclude
females assaulting females, adults molesting children, men
assaulting men, minors assaulting other minors and child
victims of incest.
Many victims never tell anyone. And fewer than 20 percent
ever report sexual assaults to police.
Most victims are not jumped in dark parking garages.
Most of the time, it’s someone they know. Someone who doesn’t
realize or doesn’t care that “No.” means “No.” Or a manipulative
predator who sniffs out weakness like a lion on the hunt.
or she knows the so-called easiest target,” says Crowe.
“Perpetrators are really good at manipulating kids—especially
a kid who is vulnerable—whose parents are going through
a divorce, or a young boy who is questioning his sexuality.
Perpetrators will pick up on that vulnerability.”
One of the key components in working with anyone who has
been sexually assaulted is choice, Crowe explains.
know the old expression, ‘two consenting adults’?” he asks.
“If someone forces me to do something, I have no
choice. If I’m a child, and someone is manipulating me emotionally
to molest me physically, I have no choice.”
In addition to working with survivors of sexual assault,
the center counsels family members of crime victims. People
His 32-year-old son was the eldest person shot to death
in a 2006 Seattle mass slaying known as the Capitol Hill
massacre. The youngest was a 14-year-old girl.
He describes the agonizing details of six brutal murders.
“Then,” says Jim, “he walked over to my son, who was still
sleeping on the couch, and put a bullet through his head.”
Jim spent some time out West attending memorial services
and gathering his son’s personal effects. Then he came home.
Compared to Seattle, where there was a tremendous outpouring
of coordinated support, here, he felt a void.
when I came back, I was all alone,” he recalls. “Except
for a few close friends, there was no knowledge of it really.
Nobody cared. It was empty. After awhile, I got really depressed.
I decided I really needed to talk to someone. I called up
the D.A.’s office. The office staff directed me to the wrong
Jim spoke with a therapist at the Albany County Department
of Mental Health.
seemed to be really willing to help, but he had never really
counseled homicide survivors’ families,” Jim remembers.
“I sat there in the first session and started spilling my
guts. After about 10 minutes, he said, ‘You know, maybe
you should really be talking to somebody else.’ So that
was the end of my therapy. I was absolutely flabbergasted.
It was so unprofessional.”
very agencies that failed him—the D.A.’s office and the
department of mental health—would have taken over CVSVC,
if Breslin had gotten his way. In an effort to streamline
government, he planned to ditch the director and deputy
director positions, dissolve the agency and farm out its
functions in 2005.
Public protest ensued. Petitioners collected more than 500
signatures. In the end, the County Legislature thwarted
Breslin’s plans. Members of the Audit and Finance Committee
unanimously voted to keep the center going by restoring
line items to the budget.
This August, some of the same people who lobbied five years
ago to save the agency began mobilizing again. Towns as
far out as Rensselaerville have passed resolutions asking
the Legislature to keep CVSVC intact.
Some 35 supporters literally stood up for the center during
the public comment period before the 39-member Legislature’s
Lisa Good, director of the Homer Perkins residential chemical-dependence
treatment center in Arbor Hill, said she has not only referred
many men, women and youths to CVSVC, but also used it herself.
healthiness, any wholeness that I have as a victim of being
molested—as a victim of being raped, as a victim of domestic
violence—is through that support,” she said. “I am a whole
individual. I am healthy and I have been able to touch many,
many, many lives with the tools that I learned at that center.
The last thing that I need as a community member, minister
and service provider is to say ‘Go here,’ and when they
get there, there’s nothing there waiting.”
Jolynn Backes, who is both a volunteer advocate and a survivor,
asked who will train, recruit and manage volunteers if the
deputy director’s position isn’t filled.
Backes also insisted that “Rape trauma is not over in 12
visits and three months. You’re asking victims who are working
with a specialized therapist, who have come to trust that
person, to turn around to somebody else,” she said. “A lot
of times that isn’t possible.”
Center supporters came out in similar numbers for the Legislature’s
lot of victims and survivors don’t have health insurance
or the money to pay for out-of-pocket therapy,” former rape
crisis center worker Mia Morosoff told the legislators.
Many clients have no place else to go for help, she said.
The agency serves 3,000 clients in an average year, Laurie
Schaible told the governing body. No other local organization
is prepared to answer the phone round-the-clock or work
with sexual violence victims, she said, noting that volunteers
and staff made almost 100 emergency room visits in 2009.
College junior Ashley Huie came to the Legislature armed
with a petition signed by 89 coeds. She is president of
the Middle Earth Peer Assistance Program at the State University
of New York at Albany.
Students get college credit for volunteering at CVSVC, which
hosts several six-week training courses each year. Colleges
also sponsor Albany’s annual Take Back the Night rally and
candlelight vigil, part of a nationwide event.
Albany County residents, we rely on the essential services
the agency provides to crime victims in need,” the petition
says. “It is imperative to keep the integrity, organization
and staffing levels intact as it is today in order to continue
to service the community in their time of need.”
Fourth Ward Albany Common Councilwoman Barbara Smith (D)
of Arbor Hill remembered “the days when sexual assault was
not even seen as a crime,” when “the criminal justice system
put the person who experienced the attack on trial.”
do not want to go backwards,” she told the Legislature.
“We would like to see these resources maintained at the
same level here in Albany County.”
The deep cuts mean reduction of services, which would put
the center at risk of losing the service-dependant grants
that fund about half its budget, said Andrea Portnick, who
received a 2008 volunteer-of-the-year award from the county
executive for working the crisis hotline.
And if the center loses its grant funding, it may be forced
In 2009, nearly half the center’s $960,602 budget came from
grants. “The county provided only $500,000 toward services,”
said Portnick. “If the county drops this funding, we may
lose some of the grants.”
The grant from the New York State Department of Health hinges
on the availability of 24-hour phone coverage and 12 crisis-intervention
sessions. The state Office of Victim Services grant is contingent
on therapy being provided. The center also gets grant money
from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.
The center deals with the type of crime that occurs “behind
closed doors, in private,” said volunteer Chrys Ballerano,
who was raped as a Chicago teenager and wait-listed for
counseling. The CVSVC has no waiting list, she said.
Ballerano described her experience with one victim, which
still haunts her to this day.
was in the ER for ten hours with a woman while the doctor
stitched her head back together,” she said. “She’d been
tied up, beaten and left for dead. She was shivering under
a little blanket. They wanted to strap her to a gurney and
put her in a machine.”
is an issue that’s as old as time,” she said. “Everybody
here knows someone who was raped or is a sexual abuse survivor.
They might not have told you.”
If adult services are slashed, children will suffer, Paula
Simpson of Altamont warned legislators, because emotional
turmoil can compromise parents’ ability to function as caregivers.
is something that has touched all of us,” she said. “You
want to know when it happens to someone you care about that
there’s someone on the other end of the line to pick up
Lois Griffin, who serves on the Social Responsibilities
Council of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany,
urged the legislators against making any spending cuts,
“especially for those who are most vulnerable in our society.”
Democrat Bryan Clenahan of Guilderland responded from the
legislature floor. A member of the Budget and Finance Committee,
he said he supports keeping the agency functioning at its
is a moral imperative,” he said afterward. “Rape is an incredibly
underreported crime. If you look at the numbers, it’s virtually
an epidemic at this point. The department does good work.
In the face of such a crisis, I don’t see how we can cut
its services. It’s a small unit with no fat, a lot of volunteers,
and it’s grant funded.”
In a phone interview, Audit and Finance Committee member
Raymond Joyce said there are “other things we should be
trimming prior to trimming something like the crime victim’s
believe it will be the opinion of the majority of legislators
that it remains separate, as it’s currently staffed,” he
Legislator Douglas Bullock (D) agreed with his colleagues.
want to make sure we fill those items with new people after
they retire,” he said. “My sense is [the legislators] are
united to stop any of the cuts and to fill any retiree positions.”
Legislator Brian Scavo (D) also said he opposed any cuts.
know the job they’re doing,” he said. “They’re on the job,
they’re conscientious and they’re helping people. Why cut
a program that’s working for Albany County?”
of the council chambers, center supporters had hair- raising
tales to tell. One recounted how she was held captive and
raped five times in one night. Another said privately that
she was a teenage virgin whose boyfriend didn’t want to
wait. He forced himself upon her, she said.
During two years of volunteering, Laurie Shaible fielded
all sorts of calls: a woman dealing with domestic violence,
a developmentally disabled person who had been raped, a
father who was immobilized by guilt because he hadn’t saved
his daughter from harm.
Schaible said she’ll never forget holding a man’s hand in
the emergency room after he was beaten and raped by several
other men in the Albany County Jail.
She also recalled a woman with post-traumatic stress who
phoned in the middle of the night. Schaible guided her through
a meditation and stayed on the line while the caller checked
that all her doors and windows were locked.
Now that the center itself is in crisis, Schaible wants
to make sure that people in crisis continue to get
the help they need.
are going to legislative hearings, writing letters, making
phone calls and contacting as many people as we can,” she
said. “It’s a social and moral and fiscal responsibility
to keep these services in place.”
Next time, it could be you or your daughter, son, mother,
aunt or wife who’s dialing the phone.