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Sexual Assault Advocates Say Indiana Lacks Resources

Barbara Harrington

The Indiana Coalition Against Sexual Assault hasn’t been operating for months, and advocates worry that means those dealing with sexual assault aren’t getting the help they need.

INCASA shut down in June, after it was unable to pay overdue taxes dating back to 2012.

A court-appointed receiveris working to reorganize the coalition’s assets in hopes that INCASA can reopen and resume its work.

But advocates worry about where survivors and service providers will turn for help in the meantime.

Kristen Pulice has spent the past few months sitting in front of her computer, thinking.

The shock from losing her job at INCASA over the summer hasn’t worn off. The coalition suspended operations and laid off all its staff because of serious financial problems.

“I was shocked,” she says. “I thought it was a travesty.”

Pulice worked as the director of primary prevention and education at INCASA.

“Survivors would reach out to us for not only crisis intervention, they would reach out to us for resources,” Pulice says. “They would also provide training to service providers, law enforcement, nurses. We would provide training to schools. We would also provide money to service providers throughout the state to do those trainings and programs in the various counties throughout the state, as well.”

Now the only access the public has to the coalition is through its website, which features only  an announcement about the organization’s closure and a place to donate money to help with the financial shortfall.

Pulice can’t stop thinking about what that could mean for sexual assault survivors.

“My fear is if we are not able to bring it back, that the voice of sexual assault will once again be a whisper,” she says.  

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Indiana is the second worst state for rape among high school-aged girls.

In addition to providing training for service providers, INCASA connected survivors like Malea Crosby with resources to help them heal.

“It’s detrimental to survivors,” Crosby says. “Where do we turn for services? I think there’s a big gap in what’s available for us.”

Crosby says without INCASA, there’s no statewide, one-stop-shop for survivors to turn to in the event of a crisis.

Some counties are trying to pick up that slack, but she says that’s not as effective.

“Vigo County it’s handled through our domestic violence shelter, but people don’t know to turn there,” Crosby says.

The closing of INCASA also has service providers like Indianapolis’ Legacy House worried.

Legacy House works with both adults and children who are survivors of violence and sexual assault.

And Executive Director Michael Hurst says it’s important not to lump those issues together.

“Domestic violence is family violence and, yes, it typically involves gender against the other gender,” Hurst says. “But, sexual assault offers a whole host of other traumas and the response both from a legislative policy standpoint and the response from a treatment standpoint is much different.”

Hurst worries the absence of INCASA will be especially noticeable during the upcoming legislative session.

The coalition spent much of its time on the third level of the statehouse, advocating for bills that give sexual assault survivors more power and protection.

“I’m reading what different legislators are thinking about doing and working with them as best I can to help inform what they’re doing,” Hurst says. “But, again, we’re a service provider and so it’s very difficult to stay focused on the policy development when you’re in the process of serving 1200 unduplicated clients over the course of a year.”

State Representative Christina Hale says she’s committed to leading the fight against sexual assault in the statehouse.

She plans to file several bills during the upcoming session relating to sexual violence.

One of her priorities is coming up with a definition for consent – that’s something the state of Indiana doesn’t have. She says having a solid definition will help with prosecuting rape and sexual assault cases.

Hale also wants to break down barriers that may deter people from reporting instances of sexual violence, so she’s introducing a bill that would allow those 18 and older who are still on their parents’ insurance plans to receive the explanation of benefits if they seek treatment for sexual assault. Right now, their parents receive the explanation of benefits, which would cue them into the situation.

The last two measures Hale is proposing deal with prosecution. When the legislature amended the criminal code last session, the sentencing guidelines for rape dropped from six to three years. Hale wants to raise that back up to six years. She also wants to raise the statute of limitations for prosecuting rape from 10 to 15 years.

But sexual assault is just one of many issues she has to tackle.

“I think not having a respected advocate in the statehouse that’s not politicized, that’s really just about doing good things for people and victims in Indiana, that voice is going to be missing,” Hale says. “I’m not certain funding will necessarily be affected negatively, where the funding goes and how it gets spent could be affected and that could have implications for services.”

Most of INCASA’s funding comes from a federal Rape Prevention and Education Grant.

Multicultural Efforts to End Sexual Assault and the Indiana Campus Sexual Assault Primary Prevention Project also receive a portion of that money, but they serve much different roles.

Hale says in order for the state to dedicate the resources necessary to fight sexual assault, it needs an organization like INCASA.

“I think our job number one is ensuring we do either rebirth or recreate that central clearinghouse, that not-for-profit place we can turn to that can continue to be responsible for training, for advocacy and also for ensuring that the right entities out in the communities around the state do receive funding in a way that is proper and appropriate,” Hale says.

That’s exactly what Pulice’s been thinking.

Even after losing her job, she remains hopeful – because she says the fight against sexual assault is far too important for INCASA to be dissolved.

She says there is strong support for getting the coalition’s finances in order so it can resume its work.

“INCASA’s doors are closed, but the entity still exists,” she says. “And, there’s a lot of people that want it to stay.”

There is no timeline for INCASA’s possible recovery. That’s up to the court and the appointed receiver.

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