LETTER: Greenwich Should Fund YWCA Sexual Assault Program

Submitted by Sherry Wernicke, Riverside

To The Editor:

Most people have no idea that domestic violence is the most frequent violent crime in Greenwich, and sexual violence often goes hand in hand. Violence against women and girls in our community is a longstanding and very serious problem. Yet, the town has NOT offered a sexual assault program to deal with this horrific crime and it’s long-standing effects. Victims have been forced to seek care and counseling outside of Greenwich. Covid only exacerbated the issue with both sexual assault and domestic violence rates skyrocketing during the pandemic.

Greenwich recently had the opportunity to fund such a program when the town was granted $31.4 million through the American Rescue Plan (ARP). Sadly, the funding was rejected last year by First Selectman Fred Camillo and the Republicans on the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET). The Sexual Assault Services $150K proposal was initially part of the town’s ARP budget proposal. In fact, it garnered the highest ranking from the committee established to review grant applications. But at the eleventh hour, First Selectman Camillo overrode the recommendation and removed the funding. The proposal ended up being the only non-profit with a “top ranking” not included in the allocations.

To urge Camillo to restore the funding, ten advocates appeared at a public hearing in March, but were told

there were only so many projects that could be funded and that the YWCA already gets help from the town. (So does the Bruce Museum but they still received $100,000 to pay for COVID losses). This made little sense to YWCA President and CEO Mary Lee Kiernan who said, “There is certainly enough funding available,” and reminded Camillo that $10 million from the $31 million Greenwich received in ARP funds was going to the town’s general fund and not being used for COVID relief. “The money is available, but you have chosen to redirect the funding and eliminate ARP money from sexual assault services.” She added this was

“an important statement about the town’s commitment to violence against women, especially young women.”

Advocates tried once more to get the funding restored at a special meeting of the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET). After sitting through nearly four hours of public comment on pickleball, historic-looking lighting and bumpouts, advocates were finally able to make their case, but to no avail. On March 29, BET Republicans used their tie-breaking vote to deny the Democrats’ motion to restore funding. Because Republican BET candidates got the most votes in the 2021 election, their control of the chairmanship gives them a tie-breaking vote.

Thankfully, our Democratic Senators Murphy and Blumenthal and Congressman Himes came to the rescue and were able to secure $100,000 in funding from the federal omnibus appropriations bill. The Greenwich YWCA will soon be able to create space and provide services directly to victims of sexual assault in our community. We owe these legislators a big debt of gratitude, because without them, our town would still lack a program.

While receiving this funding is great news, we can’t rely on federal rescue nor should we. This instance serves to remind all of us that local elections matter and can have direct impacts on our lives and our community. It is imperative that you vote and make your voice heard. Pay attention to the words and actions of elected officials and participate in your government. Elections will be held this November. It’s never too early to start educating yourself!