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Rape treatment plan facing big budget cut

Advocates say work is crucial

By Milton J. Valencia
Globe Staff / November 5, 2009

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The program was 12 years in the making. Nurses and victims advocates learned that the best way to work with a person who had been raped was with a deeper sense of care than even the most sensitive emergency room could provide.

A partnership was formed, of medical professionals working with rape crisis centers and other agencies to reach out to victims, more than 1,700 within the past year.

“It’s truly a system that makes all the difference in the world for survivors and their families,’’ said Gina Scaramella, executive director of the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center.

As a former medical advocate, she has seen how the program known as SANE, for sexual assault nurse examiner, has helped to console victims, let them know of their options, and direct them to other programs, as well as to law enforcement.

Now SANE, championed by advocates as the most sensitive and effective way to treat victims of rape and sexual abuse, is taking a 40 percent hit from the state budget ax, one of a series of cuts Governor Deval Patrick announced last week to close a $600 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year that ends June 30. To help bridge the gap, the governor announced $352 million in cuts, of which $277 million came from the executive branch. Patrick also detailed worker furloughs and possible layoffs.

SANE’s budget of roughly $3 million is being reduced by about $1 million, the agency said. The program had already been cut $500,000 since last year.

At the time of his cuts, Patrick said he had worked to spare education funding, as well as aid to municipalities.

“The governor, facing a $600 million budget gap, had some very difficult choices in front of him, and he really had to make some tough decisions based on the funding available,’’ said Cindy Roy, a spokeswoman for the Department of Administration and Finance.

The SANE program trains and funds nurses who are contacted whenever a victim reaches a designated hospital, as well as counselors from rape crisis and child advocacy centers across the state. Those counselors then refer victims to other services.

But the cut that is planned will effectively dismantle a system that stretches to 17 rape crisis centers and 27 designated hospitals across the state, said Scaramella. “There isn’t a backup plan. There isn’t another plan that works.’’

The Department of Public Health, which administers SANE and other sexual violence programs, issued a statement Tuesday saying, “We are committed to working with hospitals to ensure that all victims will continue to get the care and treatment they need when they need it.’’

Working with Jane Doe Inc., a statewide collaboration of victims’ advocate groups, the state’s rape crisis centers have embarked on a letter-writing campaign, encouraging legislators to salvage the program.

Toni Troop, a spokeswoman for Jane Doe, said Tuesday that officials realize the governor was forced to prioritize programs, but stressed that “these are essential services for victims of rape.’’

“The cuts would have a devastating effect on the critical services provided to victims of rape after an assault,’’ she said, adding that victims include children.

Milton Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@globe.com.