In full transparency, the following is a press release from the Governor’s office submitted to SOURCE media.
BOSTON – Today, April 21. Massachusetts Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, state officials and community advocates convened in recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month and to raise awareness of the supports available to survivors of sexual assault.
Representatives from the Commonwealth’s 16 regional Rape Crisis Centers, the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program and the Sexual Assault Response Unit within the Disabled Persons Protection Commission, who have served sexual assault survivors over the past year in new and creative ways due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, were recognized and shared available resources.
“The Governor’s Council to Address Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence has worked with advocates, partners and key stakeholders to support survivors of sexual assault across the Commonwealth,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “In what has been an extremely challenging year, I am grateful to the Council under the leadership of Lt. Governor Polito, for their efforts to support survivors and their families and ensure their safety as we all work to end sexual assault in Massachusetts.”
“The Baker-Polito Administration is committed to recognizing Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month and providing care, resources and support for survivors of sexual assault across the Commonwealth to keep them safe and ensure access for all those who need it,” said Lt. Gov. Polito, Chair of the Governor’s Council to Address Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence. “Every individual in every community across our Commonwealth deserves to live a life free from sexual assault, and while this work has been challenging during COVID-19, it is critically important that individuals and families know that they are not alone and that services, safety nets and resources are available.”
“This has been an exceptionally difficult year in so many ways, and we are still learning the full impacts of COVID-19. For sexual assault survivors, we know that trauma may be compounded by isolation and other factors brought by the pandemic,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders. “We are grateful for the work of advocates in rape crisis centers, and other providers and members of this strong network across our Commonwealth, who have worked to ensure survivors of sexual assault have access to resources, and we will continue to collaborate and support them to best help survivors throughout and beyond this pandemic.”
During the COVID-19 public health emergency, local and regional providers rapidly pivoted to remote services, helping meet the needs of Massachusetts residents.
Last April, the Baker-Polito Administration expanded and promoted SafeLink — the statewide 24/7 domestic violence hotline — to refer sexual assault-related calls to local rape crisis centers. The Administration also established Isolation and Recovery sites for individuals in shelter who tested positive for COVID-19, offering a safe, stable location to isolate and recover, and provided PPE and cleaning supplies, and created appropriate health and safety policies for survivors at the sites.
Throughout the pandemic, Massachusetts’ Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Program – which includes SANE nurses in 40 hospitals across the Commonwealth – has continued operations, providing trauma-informed, expert forensic nursing care to sexual assault patients across the lifespan.
To support adults with disabilities who are sexual assault survivors, the Commonwealth created a first-in-the-nation dedicated Sexual Assault Response Unit within the Disabled Persons Protection Commission. This specific unit helps adults with disabilities navigate through the barriers they face when accessing trauma services, such as communication, transportation and accessibility to help ensure that survivors are aware of the services available and to help meet their unique needs.
“During this Sexual Assault Awareness Month, let’s remember: unlike the coronavirus, sexual assault is not novel,” said Isa Woldeguiorguis, Executive Director of the Center for Hope and Healing. “Crisis situations have historically had the heaviest impact on survivors of violence, especially those who are also members of marginalized communities, such as people of color, LGBQ/T+ folks, immigrants, people with disabilities and lower incomes. The pandemic affirmed for us that our work is vital to respond to multiple crises – COVID, racism, health disparities, and violence.”
“Sexual assault and rape crisis advocates have met the challenges of the pandemic with grace and compassion as they continue to offer a lifeline to those experiencing abuse,” said Debra Robin, Executive Director of Jane Doe, Inc. “Today we celebrate them and recommit ourselves to the prevention of sexual violence.”
“Every sexual assault patient deserves the best possible care,” said Joan Sham, Director of the Massachusetts Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Program. “The SANE program, coupled with other health care and community support services, provides compassionate, trauma-informed nursing care that can help support healing, and mitigate the long-term physical and mental health challenges of sexual assault patients throughout the Commonwealth.”
“We are so grateful to our many partners who have together made it possible for victims with a disability to get the trauma informed treatment they need and deserve,” said Jackie Perez, Central/West Regional Navigator for the Sexual Assault Response Unit at the Disabled Persons Protection Commission. “With this issue now at the fore, the momentum will catapult us all forward to provide enhanced services to those most in need.”
Sexual assault and dating violence, like other forms of violence, further health inequities. Sexual assault and dating violence have both short- and long-term health effects for survivors, contributing to chronic disease, substance abuse, gynecological, and mental health issues. Child abuse, sexual violence, and partner violence often lead to homelessness among survivors, which in turn puts people at risk for additional sexual assault and sexual exploitation or trafficking. Youth who have experienced trauma, including witnessing or experiencing physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, are at greater risk for suicide.
Upon taking office, the Baker-Polito Administration restored the Governor’s Council to Address Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, chaired by Lt. Governor Polito, and has made significant investments in services to support survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. The administration has advanced several initiatives across the Commonwealth in support of individuals of all ages, which include the establishment of the SAECK Tracking System, a statewide sexual assault evidence collection kit tracking system, the creation of a statewide public awareness campaign, RESPECTfully, to promote healthy relationships among Massachusetts youth, the implementation of multi-disciplinary Human Trafficking Guidelines for Law Enforcement, and the awarding of $1 million in grant funding to promote healthy relationships and prevent sexual assault and dating violence through prevention education.
The Baker-Polito Administration’s proposed FY22 budget reaffirms this commitment to survivors of sexual assault through $96 million in total funding to ensure that survivors have access to critical services and supports, a 48% increase from FY15. This includes $50.3 million for the Department of Public Health to carry out domestic violence and sexual assault prevention and survivor services, as well as emergency and transitional residential services for victims and their children, $6 million to support statewide SANE programs for adults and adolescents in hospital settings and pediatric SANE programs in child advocacy centers, and $1 million for the grant program focusing on promoting healthy relationships and preventing dating violence among youth.
Anyone who is struggling with sexual assault is reminded that free, confidential, 24/7 support from a local rape crisis center is a phone call away. Call SafeLink at (877) 785-2020 or visit www.mass.gov/service-details/sexual-assault-prevention-and-survivor-services.