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Fayetteville's Phoenix Center to receive $300,000 in state budget

Agency provides advocacy for victims of sexual violence, domestic violence, human trafficking

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After losing federal funding through the Violence Against Women Act in the fall, the Fayetteville-based Phoenix Center has been allocated $300,000 from the state budget.

 The money is separated into three areas of need: $125,000 for the center’s domestic violence program, $50,000 for facility upgrades and $125,000 for sexual assault nurse examiners.

 “I was shocked we got the money,” Deanne Gerdes, executive director of the Phoenix Center, said Wednesday. “We’ve never been a line item before.

 “It means to me that they (members of the Cumberland County legislative delegation) listened to my concerns, and they acted on it,” she said. “They understand the need in Cumberland County.”

 Previously known as the Rape Crisis Center of Cumberland County, the Phoenix Center provides advocacy to victims of sexual violence, domestic violence and human trafficking. Last year, the agency served about 400 people.

 The Violence Against Women Act is a piece of federal legislation specifically designed to provide protections for survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.

 “So we lost federal funding through the Violence Against Women Act,” Gerdes said. “It was a nationwide hit. We were one of the ones who got hit. That was federal funds that trickled down to us, and the pot was less than it has been. On a federal level they did fix it, but it will take a while before it comes back to agencies.

 “In the meantime,” she said, “I emailed our entire Cumberland County delegation asking for help.”

 She said state Sen. Kirk deViere and state Rep. Billy Richardson “got on it.”

 “I will say we have relationships with all our delegation, which is great," Gerdes said. "We are able to call or email with questions and issues. And they’ve always been responsive. But to get into the budget, we were surprised.”

Had the center not received the funding from the state, she said, "We would not be able to provide services to domestic violence victims." That program would have been discontinued. But because the Phoenix Center would still have funding for sexual assault, she added, the agency would not have closed. 

For the center’s domestic violence program, e-Filing of domestic violence protective orders is offered. Gerdes said this essentially means that victims can visit the agency's office at 519 Ramsey St., fill out the necessary paperwork and then video chat with the judge at the Cumberland County Courthouse.

“But it’s more than that,” she emphasized. “We also advocate and get victims the resources that they need. Whether it’s shelter or housing or transportation out of town or whatever it is that the victim needs, they’re here, and we’re able to provide those resources to them. Domestic violence is not just about the piece of paper for the protective violence protective order. It’s so much more.”

The $125,000 earmarked for the domestic violence program will go toward paying advocates, who help fill out paperwork. “Those same advocates go to court with those victims because they have to go back in 10 days in front of a judge, so our advocates go with them,” Gerdes said.

“Going to court is a very scary thing to do," she said, referring to victims of sexual violence. 

“They’re afraid to be in the same parking lot – is their perpetrator going to be in the same parking lot? All the things that just get them into the courthouse. Our advocates can explain what’s going to happen or what just happened because it can be confusing.”

The center has not been able to pay advocates since it lost the Violence Against Women Act funding. That grant ended Sept. 30.

As for the facility upgrades, the $50,000 allocation will be invested into the center’s historic house “that needs some attention,” said Gerdes.

The Phoenix Center rents the property from the city. “It needs help,” she said. “Painting and board replacement – that’s what that money’s going for.”

The $125,000 designated for sexual assault nurse examiners may not be just for Cumberland County, according to Gerdes. It could end up being more of a statewide project.

“We’re talking with the Department of Justice, the Crime Lab, the Board of Nursing just trying to figure out what the best use of that funding will be," she said.

After gathering all the information that she can, Gerdes said, she will present it back to the legislators to see what they would like to see done.

“It’s not my decision,” she said. “I would say that will take months.”

Sexual assault nurse examiners are trained to perform the rape kits – the sexual assault kits – at hospitals for evidentiary purposes. They also are trained forensically.

“But more importantly, in my mind," she said, "they’re trained on how to handle victims of sexual violence and walking them through this entire sexual assault kit. Even after that, they’re the ones who are the subject matter experts and testify in trials. So they’re very important in our whole team of sexual violence.”

The sexual assault nurse examiners are employed by Cape Fear Valley Medical Center and other local hospitals, Gerdes said.

At this time, the Phoenix Center has not received the state budget money. She said the center is going through the process with the state on the required paperwork.

The center has been active in Fayetteville since 1974, Gerdes said.

Currently, it has five full-time employees.

Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at mfutch@cityviewnc.com. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.

Phoenix Center, state funding, domestic violence victims, sexual assault nurse examiners

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