Sen. Joni Ernst discussed sexual assault and cuts to resources during a visit to the RVAP on April 27.

As Sexual Assault Awareness Month draws to a close, Rape Victim Advocacy Program leaders called on Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, to advocate for more predictable funding, prevention policies, and action to support survivors of sexual assault.

Ernst, who stopped by Iowa City as part of her 99-county tour, stressed the importance of holding leaders accountable and her support for diversifying funding for sexual-assault programs.

Last year, the state Legislature cut RVAP’s funding by 41 percent, Executive Director Adam Robinson said. The $400,000 cuts defunded the 24-hour Iowa Sexual Abuse Hotline and caused RVAP to lay off half of its paid staff.

Volunteer services are the only way the program remains operational, Robinson said, because there are now only 15 paid staff members. Nearly 12,000 hours were logged by volunteers in fiscal 2017.

“Every year it seems — in my six years — it’s a juggling game,” RVAP Finance Director Ewa Bardach said. “We have to juggle what we get to make sure we can fund what we need to do in the community.”

She said that for this year, approximately 56 percent of RVAP funding comes from federal and state grants, the majority of which are from the federal level funneled through the Attorney General’s Office as part of a three-year grant.

Ernst said she supports more funding for organizations such as RVAP, but funding would need to come from numerous levels to give a safety net for the organization.

“Funding is very tight, I understand that,” Ernst said. “That’s why we at the federal level, too, making sure we are allocating the necessary dollars to make sure we are supporting the organization, but it has to be on multiple levels, you can’t rely solely on federal spending or state spending, it’s going to have to come from community and from many many partners.”

As the funding reductions rolled out last year, the crisis hotline saw an increase in calls, totaling more than 4,000, although several of the staff members paid to answer the calls had to be laid off.

“We had five people call in to our hotline every hour to thank [the staff] before we had to let them go,” Assistant Director of Sexual Assault Services Katryn Duarte said.

Ernst expressed the need for everyone, including leaders, to be held accountable for allegations of sexual misconduct.

“When allegations come up, we need to take those allegations seriously, and they need to go through due process regardless of your status, where you are where you serve, and we’ve see a lot of that in the House and Senate,” Ernst said.

Several months after news broke of former USA Gymnastics physician Larry Nassar’s repeated sexual abuse, Ernst said she was dissatisfied with the slow process of creating a joint-committee to investigate how much leaders of the U.S. Olympic Committee knew about Nassar’s conduct. The Olympic Committee is chartered by Congress.

In the end, both RVAP and Ernst agreed that the top priority for them is putting an end to sexual assault through preventative methods such as rape-prevention-education programs.

“Our end goal, no offense to the advocates, but we want to work them out of a job,” Assistant Director for Prevention and Outreach Susan Junis said. “So that we have a community where sexual violence doesn’t exist, and we truly do believe that it’s possible.”