Safe Passage to move sexual assault response team forward

By Alexander Chettiath

Safe Passage will follow through with the creation of a sexual assault response team despite being denied a $103,000 grant from the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.

The purpose of the grant was to help communities form multidisciplinary teams to address sexual assault and domestic violence against women. The center will still form teams to increase successful prosecutions of domestic violence and sexual assault, and to ensure better responses from the criminal justice system, said Mary Schaid, executive director of Safe Passage.

“Prior to even the grant being released, we had been talking with the State’s Attorney[’s] Office about starting what would be called a sexual assault response team and that’s a multidisciplinary team,” Schaid said. “That includes the police department, State’s Attorney[’s] office, probation court services and victim’s advocates.”

Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority is a state agency dedicated to improving the administration of criminal justice by identifying critical issues facing the criminal justice system in Illinois and proposing and evaluating policies, programs and legislation that addresses those issues, according to its website. The agency set aside $4 million from the Violence Against Women Act, the federal law that provides funding toward the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women, as part of a research-driven effort to expand the number of response teams in Illinois, said Cristin Evans, a spokesperson for the agency.

Safe Passage applied for the grant on Aug. 31 and was denied on Oct. 1.

“I was told by the [Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority] that the reason we didn’t get the grant was because we didn’t have a team already in place, we didn’t have intergovernmental agreements in place and we hadn’t had a meeting,” Schaid said. “The grant itself is a little misleading because it says it was for the development of, or the enhancement of a multidisciplinary team. We thought we were trying to develop one, so we would qualify, but they wanted teams that were farther along, apparently.”

The grants, awarded to Cook, Kankakee, Peoria and St. Clair counties, were valued between $450,000 and $600,000, and were based on submitted budgets and projected program costs.

If Safe Passage had been awarded the grant, the money would have been used for the training of members and the hiring of a full-time coordinator, but it now will have to appoint a victim advocate to schedule meetings, contact members and get the minutes out, Schaid said.

Seventy percent of Safe Passage’s budget is comprised of government funding, both state and federal, and due to the state budget impasse, Safe Passage has stopped hiring vacant positions and is relying on a line of credit and funders, Schaid said.

“Until the state budget is worked out, we are not receiving a pretty substantial amount of money that we rely on to operate,” Schaid said. “If there are more cuts, it could compromise service, but we are managing, and we have no plans to cut any services in the near future. … People would not be safe if they couldn’t come here so it’s a big problem.”

The grants supported multidisciplinary teams non-competitively for a decade, but the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority’s Ad Hoc Victim Services Committee decided to open the funding stream in 2013 to a competitive process to allow for new programs, Evans said.

“We are moving forward with [the response team] … [Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority] is saying that they are going to consider funding startups,” Schaid said. “We are going to move forward, but hopefully we will be able to get some grant money to really help with it.”