Find funds to assist sexual assault victims

Once again, a critical service that contributes to public safety suffers a funding reduction. Political leaders talk the talk about protecting the innocent from crime but then fail to walk the walk by exacting short-sighted budget cuts on programs that work out of the public spotlight but nonetheless help put criminals behind bars.

When those criminals are violent sexual offenders, public safety should not be compromised.

But that's the case with the state attorney general's office announcement last week that federal grant money for the Manatee Glens Rape Crisis Services has been reduced by 11 percent reduction.

Those dollars, which only amount to $15,000 locally in support of the Victims of Crime Act, would have served some 118 victims of sexual abuse in this county, according to Manatee Glens.

Those rape crisis services include accompanying victims to court, vital support for the successful prosecution of defendants.

Crisis counseling also contributes to that outcome, providing victims with the confidence and strength to testify.

The attorney general's office admits the program serves a critical purpose. "I know that the Rape Crisis services are essential for the prosecution of cases, especially in circumstances where the victims have delayed disclosure due to psychological issues," Assistant State Attorney Cynthia Evers stated. "They need counseling and therapy."

Evers went on to explain how the program is "especially important" in cases involving children, even more so when prosecution cannot proceed without that testimony.

The very idea that child sexual predators and molesters might get away with their crimes should draw an immediate restoration of this program.

Florida's congressional delegation should step up in defense of funding for the Victims of Crime Act.

Should that fail, the state of Florida should not allow this to occur. Tallahassee should rush to fill this federal funding void, a total of some $2.8 million lost statewide.

Manatee Glens has experienced a major increase in the need for rape crisis services -- a 25 percent hike over the past five years. Society can ill afford to abandon these crime victims at a time when they are most vulnerable.

Manatee Glens President and CEO Mary Ruiz zeroed in on the issue with this statement after the funding loss became known: "Caring for them is the right thing for us to do and should be a priority for our state."

The amount of money is small, but the need is great -- not only in helping to rebuild shattered lives but in overall public safety.