Domestic violence center set to close

Although Marshalltown’s Domestic Violence Alternatives and Sexual Assault Center will close as part of a statewide regionalization of crime victim services, its executive director said it’s not abandoning anyone.

Dotti Thompson, executive director at DVA/SAC, said her 10 full and part-time staff will do all they can to ensure the transition to regional service is as smooth as possible. When she first heard of the switch, she said she could picture the faces of those who would be affected.

“I want to make sure no one feels there will not be services,” Thompson said.

For the past 30 years, the center has provided advocacy services to victims of sexual and domestic assault in Marshall, Jasper, Tama and Poweshiek counties. In its previous fiscal year, DVA/SAC helped 562 clients with 3,934 instances of domestic abuse and sexual assault in Marshall County, and the center projected it would provide those services to 620 people in its current fiscal year.

According to a DVA/SAC press release, the Iowa Legislature has severely underfunded the center for several years, and as of July 1, the center’s state funding will expire because of its inability to secure the necessary money to keep operations afloat.

Last year, the Crime Victim Assistance Division of the Iowa Attorney General’s Office announced a plan to break down service areas into districts. Services for Marshall and Tama counties will shift to ACCESS (Assault Care Center Extending Shelter and Support) in Ames, which serves Boone, Greene and Story counties.

“I just don’t think anyone knows what the full ramifications are on this,” Thompson said. “Those in the Iowa Legislature have not put priority on meeting the needs of domestic assault and sexual assault violence victims.”

Thompson said she will be applying to the Crime Victims Assistance Division for between three and six months of transitional funding. DVA/SAC will hear back whether it gets the money July 9, but it will still be able to appeal and reapply should the Crime Victims Assistance Division deny DVA/SAC the money. Staff at the Crime Victims Assistance Division have been sensitive to the difficulty for agencies such as DVA/SAC, Thompson said.

Angie Schreck, executive director at ACCESS, said her staff will work with DVA/SAC staff to ensure the quality of services remains high and make the transition seamless by understanding the needs of the victims in the area. However, she said she is still unaware which services will be provided by ACCESS.

In addition to Schreck, ACCESS employs three full-time staff for domestic violence services and three more for sexual assault services as well as two part-time administrators and a volunteer coordinator. It also makes use of between 40 and 60 volunteers.

Schreck said as the center takes on more responsibilities from Tama and Marshall counties, it will likely need to increase its staff. Although whether staff from DVA/SAC will be transferred to Ames has yet to be determined, Schreck said she is open to that.

“It’s about having a person familiar with the area and the work,” she said.

Thompson said she has not had time to think about what she will do once the center dissolves.

Marshalltown Police Chief Mike Tupper sits on the DVA/SAC board. He said moving many of the services to Ames will have a negative impact on how law enforcement is able to work to solve these issues.

“These are complicated investigations,” Tupper said. “It takes a team effort to effectively address these crimes.”

Tupper said the issue is “near and dear” to him and he strongly believes in collaborative efforts between police and agencies like DVA/SAC. Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the shift to regions is that state officials are not sharing much about the specifics of the process. Many questions still linger about the change, he said.

However, the board will continue to meet weekly to hash out the details, Thompson said.

Moving to regional services can often strain delicate situations by adding the burden of travel to the equation, Tupper said.

“It is difficult to get folks to go across town,” he said. “I am very skeptical that we are going to get people to drive to Ames or Fort Dodge.”

Although ACCESS has a shelter, it is not specifically for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, Thompson said. With the closing of the Marshalltown shelter, the nearest such shelter will be in Fort Dodge.

Schreck agreed distance is a barrier, but that ACCESS tries to look for other solutions to avoid uprooting victims.

“We will try to support people where they are and being as safe as possible,” Schreck said. “The next safe place doesn’t have to be a shelter.”

The one bright spot, Tupper said, is that he worked with ACCESS and served on its board when he was police chief in Nevada. He said their staff is great, and he had a good working relationship with them while in Nevada.