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The Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault needs your help.

The statistics aren't pretty.

It's estimated that one in five women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. The Justice Department suggests 44 percent of sexual assault victims in America are under age 15. A chilling 15 percent are younger than 12.

What happens to the victims of these crimes?

If they're lucky, they can find help with the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault, a local non-profit dedicated to helping people through the trauma of rape, molestation and incest. The organization provides community education on sexual abuse, specialized counseling for victims, crisis intervention, and Su Voz Vale, a bilingual outreach program aimed at the city's southside.

But SACASA is facing a severe funding crunch. Because one-time grants are ending and other funding is drying up, SACASA President and CEO Bridget Riceci is forecasting a 30 percent drop in her budget, from $1.265 million last year to $887,000 this year.

That cuts deeply into SACASA staffers' ability to do their work, including visiting victims at hospitals to gather evidence with rape kits.

Since 1995, the organization has provided trained forensic experts who can stay with rape victims through their medical exams, which can last up to four hours. Without their presence throughout the entire exam, says county prosecutor Kathleen Mayer, the chain of evidence is broken and won't hold up in court. Doctors and nurses generally can't spare that kind of attention, leaving SACASA staffers, who are on call 24 hours a day, to do the job.

Between June 1, 2001 and May 31, 2002, the organization provided 134 exams. More than a third were performed on children.

In response to the budget squeeze, Riceci has already suspended one program, Primary Intervention for Personal Safety, which allowed staff to visit public schools to talk to kids about sexual abuse. But even with that cut, the organization is facing a six-figure shortfall. With state and local governments also trimming spending, Riceci is making a public call for private donations.

Donations can be made to SACASA, 1632 N. Country Club Road, Tucson AZ 85716. For more info, call 327-1171. Make an online contribution at www.sacasa.org.

More by Jim Nintzel

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