JUST TWO MONTHS after Seattle Rape Relief (SRR) closed its doors ["Rape Center on Ropes," Samantha M. Shapiro, June 24, and "Radical Relief," Paul Axelrod, July 8], rape crisis volunteers are back with a new name -- Communities Against Rape and Abuse (CARA) -- and a 10-page plan. Their intent: to mobilize support, and more importantly, to raise money.

But young CARA is vying for the same minimal city funding as veteran agencies like the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center (KCSARC), which offers legal advocacy, and Harborview's Center for Sexual Assault and Traumatic Stress, which has a medical and therapeutic focus. The pot of city money for next year is a measly $138,000. That's not much to feed the agencies, considering that CARA's predecessor, SRR, had an annual budget of about $400,000.

CARA's eight-member board, composed of former SRR volunteers, has been meeting weekly since May, when SRR's board of directors fired a third of its staff while the rest quit in solidarity. The volunteers' initial intention was to save the 27-year-old agency. But the potential cost and legal battles would have delayed getting services to people, they estimated, for up to two years. So they decided to start up something new instead.

"As Seattle Rape Relief shut down -- imploded -- the more involved we got," CARA board member Alisa Bierria says. "We developed as a board sort of de facto."

Like its older sister SRR, CARA is politically motivated. Taking their cue from the activist-oriented feminism of the late '60s and early '70s, CARA plans to take on the broad "culture of rape." Not content to simply combat instances of sexual assault, the group is setting out to infiltrate the root causes. While they don't mention redistributing the wealth or bringing down world corporate hegemony, they do propose to fight racism, sexism, and "abuses of power."

CARA's similarities to SRR stop there. CARA has no immediate plan to start a 24-hour crisis line (a main SRR service) or to take over the former provider's medical advocacy.

According to last month's report, CARA plans to take SRR's mission to the streets, targeting groups alienated by the white, middle-class system that built social services. They propose to go into marginalized neighborhoods like the Central District, to educate community members. Board member Heather McRae-Woolf acknowledges that with only two black members, CARA needs to diversify in order to gain legitimacy. CARA also plans to teach teen center, church, and community center counselors about sexual assault.

This grassroots effort, CARA activists say, would fill a big gap in existing services. A 1993 city-commissioned study found that minorities, poor people, and teens are sexually abused most often. For adults, according to the study, "lower socio-economic status" means "a higher rate of victimization."

McRae-Woolf explains, "You're talking about under-served populations and you're talking about communities that often feel marginalized in our society. [They] don't have services. [They] don't come forward to report rape because they have justified concerns about how an establishment is going to treat them."

The group plans to hire eight staff members, including four organizers, a legal advocate, and three coordinators. These bold plans depend, of course, on CARA's ability to get city money -- a tricky task given the limited pot and the fact that city funds don't go to overlapping programs.

SRR's demise freed up $96,000 for sexual assault service providers in 1999. The city quickly handed over about half that amount, which formerly went to SRR's crisis line, to KCSARC's crisis line. As for the remaining cash, KCSARC Executive Director Mary Ellen Stone says, "All of us try not to compete, because our whole system needs funding."

McRae-Woolf says, "We need all these services and the fact that there's not enough money to go around is a crime."

But according to Evelyn Chapman, planner in the city's Domestic Violence/ Sexual Assault Unit, the groups are competing. The $138,000 for agencies next year "isn't going to cover many new services," she concedes. The agencies will have to scrape by on private money and state funding. This could be a problem for CARA. State funding only goes to groups who are accredited. CARA will not be accredited because the group doesn't plan to run a 24-hour crisis line, one of the state's prerequisites. Meanwhile, Harborview and KCSARC are accredited.

On the plus side for CARA, their grassroots approach has caught the city's eye. "There are lots of victim services that are being provided...but there's not a lot of community organizing [around] domestic violence and sexual assault," Chapman says. CARA is seeking nonprofit status and an office, possibly in the Central District.

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