By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current
Missoula County and Relationship Violence Services have applied for a $450,000 federal grant to staff a crime victim advocate and provide 24-hour on-call service for victims of sexual assault.
But if the grant is approved, the county would have to return 5 percent of it due to Montana’s lack of HIV testing for those arrested on allegations of sexual assault.
“They mandate that communities provide HIV testing for people who have been arrested for sexual assault,” said Shantelle Gaynor, grants administrator with Relationship Violence Services. “If a community does not have this in place, the community gives back 5 percent of the grant. To date, we have not had a policy or procedure in place that supports that.”
The grant, provided by the Office on Violence Against Women, would fund 1.5 positions with RVS and support a crime victim advocate placed with the Missoula Police Department. It would also support an advocate to handle temporary orders of protection.
“It also provides funding for the YWCA to have on-call advocates to respond to First Step 24 hours a day,” said Gaynor. “And it provides our sexual assault nurse examiners at First Step to be on call 24 hours a day.”
Because the grant is competitive, Gaynor said, there’s no guarantee the county will be successful in its application. If it’s successful, she said, it will have to return 5 percent of the grant due to its lack of HIV testing on suspects.
So far, Gaynor said, the state has not supported mandatory HIV testing on suspects.
“You’ve got somebody that’s arrested and not convicted and because they haven’t been convicted, forcing them to have a medical procedure is unconstitutional in Montana,” she said. “However, through evidence collection, there might be a way of creating a strong incentive for them to do an HIV test.”
Gaynor said the documents in the application packet make numerous references to New Orleans, Detroit and Missoula. An investigation into the handling of sexual assault cases in Missoula by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2014 led to widespread changes in the system.
“We became a de facto demonstration project for the DOJ,” said Gaynor. “I’m hoping that helps us be competitive.”
If the grant is denied, Gaynor said, “that’s a larger conversation that will involve the commissioners and the city.”
Contact reporter Martin Kidston at firstname.lastname@example.org