Rape Crisis Center, Hot Line to Close for Lack of Funds

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Orange County's only rape crisis center and hot line plans to shut down July 1 due to lack of funds, leaving sexual assault victims with no local network to call for 24-hour-a-day counseling and advice.

The Orange County Sexual Assault Network needs about $60,000 to operate its phones and office for the next year and without it will close in a month, said founder Linda Yuppa. The center has been helping sexual assault victims for almost 10 years, and its hot line receives 300 to 500 calls per month--a total of 4,000 calls last year, Yuppa said.

"Over the years, I've seen so much help given to so many people," Yuppa said. "This is a crisis that people can be helped out of, and the advice they get determines how they go about the rest of their lives. I am quite saddened that Orange County, which has a population of over 2.6 million people, will be without a very valuable service."

The sexual assault center decided last year to rely on donations instead of seeking state money because of California's budget crisis and the uncertainty of funding. But its major sponsors--mostly local defense firms--have severely cut back donations due to the recession.

If the Orange County hot line shuts down, victims of sexual assault will have to call Long Beach or Los Angeles crisis centers. Yuppa said that two other Southern California hot lines have shut down recently and that most others throughout the state are suffering similar financial problems.

The center ran out of money in May and was expected to close May 15. But some unexpected donations, primarily from employees of Hughes Aircraft and Southern California Edison Co., kept it going another 1 1/2 months.

But the group's board of directors decided that it can no longer operate from month to month and will only stay open after July 1 if it has the money to function for an entire year. It costs about $6,000 per month to run the hot line and staff the office.

A crew of 105 volunteers staff the hot-line phones. The center refers callers to counselors and public agencies and provides information on the criminal justice system.

"We offer an ear to listen, which is the most important thing," Yuppa said. "Most people call us when they are on the end of their rope and they need someone to talk to. We are a non-judgmental listening ear. Some people can't sleep and call in the middle of the night, while some call at 7 a.m. because they are suffering an anxiety attack."

The only other group in Orange County that offers a 24-hour hot line is the Victim-Witness Assistance Program. But that group does not focus on rape counseling. Instead it concentrates on giving information about the criminal justice system, often for victims of domestic violence.

The Orange County Sexual Assault Network's business office can be reached at (714) 373-9994. Its hot line is at (714) 831-9110.

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