RVAP reflects on 45 years of service

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The Daily Iowan; Photos by Ben A

RVAP is pictured on Thursday, April 5, 2018. (Ben Allan Smith/The Daily Iowan)

From its beginning as a 24-hour crisis hotline, the Rape Victim Advocacy Program has grown to become a leading program for victims of sexual assault in Iowa.

RVAP is the oldest stand-alone comprehensive sexual-assault program in Iowa and among the oldest nationally. The program is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year and reflected on its years of service and recent funding issues faced.

In 1973, volunteers started operating RVAP as one of the services provided through the Women’s Resource and Action Center.

“It literally started as a volunteer service that was a landline phone sat next to a cot, and volunteers would take shifts staying on the cot 24 hours a day so that survivors in the community that needed support, needed resources, needed to connect with somebody safe could do that 24 hours a day,” RVAP Director Adam Robinson said.

RVAP remained part of the WRAC for a while and eventually became its own stand-alone agency embedded in Division of Student Life at the University of Iowa. RVAP now provides service to eight eastern Iowa counties: Cedar, Des Moines, Henry, Iowa, Johnson, Lee, Washington, and Van Buren.

RELATED: UISG supports RVAP by matching donations

The agency has expanded its services to include providing free, confidential, trauma-informed advocacy and counseling to anyone impacted by sexual violence, operation of 24-hour crisis lines both locally and statewide, and prevention education services.

“There really are not any other services that focus on what happens to a person who is sexually assaulted and what the community can do to end sexual assault,” Director of the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault Beth Barnhill said. RVAP is a member of the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

From 1999 to 2017, RVAP was in charge of operating the statewide Iowa Sexual Abuse Hotline. However, in July 2017, the Iowa Attorney General’s Office defunded the hotline.

According to RVAP’s website, due to statewide restructuring of victim services, the Iowa Sexual Abuse Hotline now provides roll-over services and answers crisis lines for other sexual-assault centers during non-business hours, weekends, and holidays.

RELATED: University of Iowa response to sexual misconduct continues to evolve after second Speak Out Iowa survey

“Last year was a financially difficult year for us, where we lost 41 percent of our government funding and about half of our staff when the hotline got defunded,” Robinson said. “We have a responsibility and the challenge of trying to diversify the ways in which we get funded so that we can continue to provide our services free of charge and we can continue to provide our services in ways that help to reduce barriers rather than add additional ones.”

To celebrate its 45th anniversary, RVAP will host a gala today. Proceeds from the event will go to RVAP, and the program will honor volunteers and staff of the organization, such as Karla Miller, the longest-tenured executive director of RVAP, who became director in 1981.

“I accept it on behalf of all the volunteers over that last 45 years and all the staff who have worked there,” Miller said. “I love this program. I dedicated a good part of my life to it not just to do things for others; I got a lot back. [The award is] validation of work that I love.”

Robinson said RVAP will continue to work toward its mission of creating a community free of sexual violence.

“Anytime there is a birthday or an anniversary, you kind of just organically step out of the present moment and reflect back,” Robinson said. “It’s just pretty powerful to think back on how much progress has been made in 45 years and how much still needs to be made.”

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