Budget cut threatens sex abuse center Plan would eliminate treatment program

8 would lose jobs

March 15, 1996|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,SUN STAFF

Dianne Jones learned to confront her nightmarish childhood through counseling at the Sexual Abuse Treatment Center in Westminster.

But the program that transformed Ms. Jones from a frightened, restless woman into a confident, successful entrepreneur would be eliminated under proposed budget cuts being considered by the County Commissioners.

County officials, forced to trim $5 million from next year's day-to-day operating budget, have proposed cutting Carroll's $271,690 allocation to the Sexual Abuse Treatment Center, a counseling service run by the nonprofit Family and Children's Services of Central Maryland.

Sandra L. Rappeport, the agency's Carroll County district director, said the loss of funding would eliminate the sexual abuse program. Seven full-time counselors and a part-time psychiatrist would lose their jobs.

"If the center is put out of operation, we will be putting children at greater risk at a time when they need sensitive, sophisticated help," Ms. Rappeport said, noting that children who have been sexually abused require specialized treatment, both short- and long-term.

The sexual abuse center is among many citizen service programs facing severe budget cuts for fiscal 1997, which begins July 1. County officials have proposed slashing nearly $1 million from those programs, which provide emergency shelter and housing, vocational and educational programs and transportation for the disabled and the disadvantaged.

Sluggish revenue from property and income taxes have prompted the measures. During hearings on the proposed cuts this week, several residents urged the commissioners to raise taxes to finance government operations, including the county's public library system, which faces a $644,525 cut.

The commissioners have scheduled a hearing tomorrow to learn about the impact the proposed cuts would have on the sexual abuse center. The hearing will be held at 12: 30 p.m. at the Agricultural Center in Westminster.

Ms. Jones, 40, who owns a small construction company in vTC Westminster, hopes to be among clients and agency officials who will testify. She wants to tell the commissioners how the center has helped her during the past five years and how she will continue to need counseling. "There's no question I would not be where I am at today if it hadn't been for the center," said Ms. Jones, the mother of five. "I wish I had the power of language to stop them from making these cuts."

Ms. Jones, who says she was sexually abused by her father, is one of 309 clients, including 105 children, who received counseling or other treatment at the Westminster office last year. Besides victims, the center's staff also counsels family members and relatives.

"If they do not receive this treatment, these young victims risk serious problems in school, act out aggressively with peers, high rates of teen pregnancy, substance abuse, depression and suicide," Ms. Rappeport said. "Some may later grow up to become sexual abusers themselves."

Ms. Jones suffered other symptoms, including feelings of low self-esteem and insecurity, she said. Work became her antidote. She was a hair stylist who became a makeup artist, manicurist and body masseuse. For years, Ms. Jones could recall little about her childhood in West Virginia. She remembered poverty, the many nights she, her sisters and brothers went to bed hungry. She could recall sitting on her father's lap and hearing him call her his "little movie star."

The idyllic images of her childhood began to unravel about eight years ago while Ms. Jones was working at a hair show and saw a man whose eyes resembled her father's. For no apparent reason, she began yelling at him.

Later, she walked away from her job and her home in Catonsville. She moved to Westminster, where she became an unemployed single mother. She found the Sexual Abuse Treatment Center and the long path to recovery.

"For a long time I knew something was going on, but I couldn't face it," she recalled. "I thought I was crazy. I had forgotten about the abuse but my body hadn't. For me this has been like a dying and rebirth process. It's taken a long time. My childhood fantasies about my family have died."

Pub Date: 3/15/96

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