THE INVESTIGATORS: Advocacy group, administration differ on whether state provides funding for sexual assault prevention
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Now that Dennis and Cynthia Perkins are both behind bars, accused of heinous sex crimes against children, one group says their high-profile arrests are now shining a light on a dark problem in Louisiana.
Jessie Nieblas works for the Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault (LaFASA). Their group provides crisis centers and preventative opportunities for survivors of sexual assault. Through the organization, they offer counseling services and advocates to attend post-assault doctor’s exams, court dates and more.
"Louisiana does not fund any of the crisis services or prevention services," said Nieblas. "They really are life-saving services that deserve to be robustly funded and available to all people throughout Louisiana."
She says they often have to get creative in order for those services to survive. WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked Nieblas how LaFASA is currently funded. “We operate almost entirely through federal grants,” she answered. “Louisiana gives no money to sexual assault prevention or survivor services.”
Nieblas says the funding is not always available and as a result, she believes it leaves a gap in the help they are able to provide. Currently, she says there are seven parishes across Louisiana, including Livingston, that do not have accredited member centers that offer counseling and direct help to survivors.
“That is a huge issue because survivors don’t have that in-person response and there isn’t an infrastructure to provide the prevention services that are needed,” said Nieblas.
WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked Nieblas if the gap in funding allows more crimes to happen in areas that are underserved. “I think sexual violence happens everywhere, but I think not having a service provider can make people more vulnerable, certainly,” she added.
The state disagrees with the claims. The 9News Investigators were able to get a copy of the State Victims Reparations Fund budget from the state treasury. It shows $1 million went into the fund last year and Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne says more money is on the way.
“There’s a significant amount of state money that goes into victim’s reparations. Money from slots at the track and some riverboat money goes to a victim’s reparation fund,” said Dardenne. “With the Criminal Justice Reinvestment Act that was passed, we actually have had $1 million that has gone into the back log at the reparations fund and there’ll be $1.6 million that will go into it next year.”
While that money is great because it goes to those who are awarded payments as a result of court action, Nieblas says the Victims Reparations Fund does not qualify as money that is actually invested in the prevention of sexual crimes.
“It’s not acceptable that Louisiana does not provide funding for these life-saving services,” said Nieblas.
“This is clearly a need and justifiable need but the legislature’s in the business of deciding how to allocate resources and there’s a lot of demands made on the limited budget that we have,” said Dardenne.
WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked Dardenne if, besides the reparations fund, he ever believes there will be a day where there is dedicated money that is set aside just for the purpose of sexual assault prevention.
“I don’t know. It’s hard to say,” answered Dardenne. “There are a lot of demands on government. There are a lot of requests that are made of legislators to try and allocate resources and I think it just depends upon what the legislature believes is a priority.”
In the Perkins case, the Attorney General has asked any other potential victims to come forward as they continue to investigate. However, Nieblas believes until something is done to protect victims and even prevent some of the sexual crimes, an untold amount of potential victims remain at risk.
"I think that it’s really important for us to keep the pressure on,” said Nieblas. “This is a crucial issue and unfortunately it often takes a high profile case to bring it to the forefront and that truly is tragic.”
Nieblas says LaFASA does apply for federal grants each year but the money is not always guaranteed. She says any change in their funding could mean fewer available services for those who need it.
The current parishes without accredited crisis centers are Concordia, Catahoula, La Salle, Winn, St. Helena, Tangipahoa, and Livingston.
For information about free, confidential support for survivors and loved ones, please call Louisiana’s statewide helpline at 888-995-7273 or visit lafasa.org/main/sexual_assault_centers for more information about services in your area.
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