Santa Clara County approves $5M for sexual assault services
Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez, joined by San Jose Councilmembers Magdalena Carrasco and Sylvia Arenas, announces a county plan to allocate $5 million to help sexual assault victims. Photo credit: Councilmember Sylvia Arenas.

    While women’s healthcare services are being threatened nationally, Santa Clara County leaders are fighting to preserve and invest in securing those rights at the local level.

    In two monumental moves for women, the Board of Supervisors unanimously voted on Tuesday to reserve $5 million to support services for victims of sexual assault and gender-based violence and to look into allocating county funds to replace lost federal grants to Planned Parenthood, after the Trump administration issued new rules to slash funding to the health care service provider.

    The ongoing $5 million reserve approved by the county supervisors will support local sexual assault services, including two rape crisis centers and training for law enforcement on sexual assault.

    Supervisor Cindy Chavez, along with Supervisor Dave Cortese, proposed the move to reserve the millions in funds to provide ongoing funding for crisis, mental health, medical and legal services to survivors of gender violence by partnering with nonprofits and community advocates to provide care.

    The money would also help re-train law enforcement officials who work with victims to improve the county’s systemic response and prevent re-traumatization of victims seeking help. The goal, according to county officials, is to provide better resources to individuals who experienced domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking and other sexually abusive crimes.

    “The number of American troops killed in Afghanistan in Iraq between 2001 and 2012 was 6,488 lives,” Chavez said, holding back tears. “The number of women in the U.S who were murdered by a partner during that same time was 11,766 lives — nearly double. We understood as a country the risk that we were taking at war, but not acknowledging the risk that so many of us — women and children — take in our own country.”

    Nearly 30 women came forward to speak, which included San Jose Councilmembers Pam Foley, Sylvia Arenas, representatives for Magdalena Carrasco and Sergio Jimenez, survivors of abuse, and community advocates who supported Chavez’s proposal.

    Sexual assault victim Michelle Torres said her life was torn apart after her assault, and the services from the county were “sparse to none.” Torres said she still experiences trauma stemming from the incident.

    “I was a prisoner within my own self,” Torres said. “To think that all of the women that go through this that don’t have the capacity to communicate what they’re feeling just kills me inside.”

    “On average, three or four women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends every day,” added Chavez. “My intent today is to do what it takes to lead us to zero in our own county.”

    The supervisors also received a report on new rules imposed by the Trump Administration in April on Title X, a federal family planning program that provides reproductive health services and birth control to low income women.

    Under the new rules, abortion service providers or organizations that refer patients to abortion services cannot receive Title X funding, making Planned Parenthood and the County of Santa Clara Health System ineligible.

    The county report said that all six of its Planned Parenthood locations serving 36,274 patients are susceptible to losing $463,265 in funds used to give pregnant women counseling and referrals for abortion services.

    But Planned Parenthood provides a mix of family planning services, which include “contraception, pregnancy testing and counseling, breast and cervical cancer screening, sexually-transmitted infection testing and treatment, and infertility services,” according to the report.

    The loss of funds could potentially “decrease the availability of comprehensive family planning services by diverting Title X funds to programs that only offer a limited range of services.” In effect, the change can shrink the number of services and opportunities available to low income families drastically.

    “The rights of women to reproductive freedom are ingrained in our founding documents and have been recognized by our government for nearly half a century,” said Supervisor Susan Ellenberg in a statement, adding that the Trump Administration’s plan to cut off federal funding undermines women’s “fundamental rights.”

    “We are finally reaching the tipping point of awareness that is leading to resources actually being invested in this area,” Cortese added. “It’s not just women that need to lead on this issue, it’s men too.”

    Contact Nadia Lopez at [email protected] or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

    Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified a speaker during the Board of Supervisors meeting. We regret the error.

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