A woman whose daughter was molested by a neighbor is worried that the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center may lose funds because of the county's budget crisis. Scores of service providers rely on the county for operating money.

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Going to court and testifying against the man who sexually abused her was a frightening prospect for a hurt, confused and angry 5-year-old girl.

But with the help of a counselor and a legal advocate, Jessi began the healing process and, along with other young abuse victims, visited a courtroom to learn what it means to be a witness in a trial.

An advocate from the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center “held our hand the whole time,” Jessi’s mother, Dawn, recalled.

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But Dawn, an airline employee who lives in South King County with her husband and two daughters, worries that others victimized by sexual abuse may not fare so well in the future.

The Sexual Assault Resource Center, whose employees met Dawn and Jessi when she was first interviewed by police, and counseled both for months, could lose a big piece of its funding next year. (The Seattle Times typically does not identify victims of sexual assault.)

The nonprofit organization is among scores of service providers that rely on the county. Some $18 million will be shared this year by senior centers, youth and family counselors, food banks, homeless shelters, job-training programs, and help for victims of domestic violence and sexual assaults.

But County Executive Ron Sims wants to cut community- and health-services funding by 44 percent next year as he struggles to slice $90 million out of the general-fund budget.

Agencies providing state-mandated services, such as sheriff’s patrols, courts and elections, are looking at cuts of 11.5 percent.

Hard choices

Whether Sims will modify those cuts — or how any individual group like the Sexual Assault Resource Center might fare — won’t be known until he presents his proposed 2009 budget this afternoon.

Community and Health Services Director Jackie MacLean recalled that when she spoke with Sims a few months ago about the kinds of services that were at risk, he responded, “You’re killing me, Jackie.”

The choices aren’t easy. On a visit to the Northshore Senior Center, MacLean asked, “Do I cut services to you old folks or do I cut services to the youth who are getting in trouble with the law?”

And when some social-service advocates tell her the county should cut jail funding more deeply, she answers, “Well, there are these bad guys running around. There’s not an easy answer to the problem.”

The Sexual Assault Resource Center receives about one-fifth of its $2.5 million budget from King County. Another fifth comes from the state, which is facing its own $3.2 billion shortfall in the 2009-11 biennium.

Two other nonprofits receiving King County funds help victims of sexual assault: the Children’s Response Center and Harborview Center for Sexual Assault and Traumatic Stress.

Their efforts are important not only because they help crime victims heal but because they play a key role in bringing sex offenders to justice.

Without public funding, said Mary Ellen Stone, executive director of the resource center, many victims of sex crimes are unable to stick with a case through trial. “Some people assume you just make a report. No. This turns your life upside down for a year and a half at least.”

Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Lisa Johnson, who heads the prosecutor’s special-assault unit, said victim-advocate groups are “absolutely critical and vital” to successful convictions. “We couldn’t do our cases without them.”

Trial preparation

After Jessi was molested by the uncle of a neighbor, a resource-center counselor helped her control her bursts of rage and redirect her anger back to the man she calls the “bad, bad uncle.” Another counselor helped Dawn deal with her feelings that she hadn’t done enough to protect her daughter.

By the day of the trial a year after the crime, Jessi was eager to tell the court what the defendant had done to her. She was disappointed when his last-minute guilty plea to first-degree child molestation meant she wouldn’t be able to testify.

Jessi did address the court at his sentencing, where she saw him and wept — “bucketsful of tears,” she recalled.

She said that in addressing the judge, “I said I wanted him to have to go to jail for a million billion jillion and 56 years.” The man was sentenced to 56 months in prison and, after serving his time, was deported to Mexico.

Now 10, Jessi is a chatty, energetic third-grader who operates a fashion “business,” making clothes and accessories that she sells to her mother.

“Look at her,” Dawn exclaimed.

“She’s a confident girl. She’s Jessi. I was afraid that this whole thing would change her personality dramatically. … “

“Ruin my life,” Jessi interjected.

“It may have ruined her life if it hadn’t been for this organization,” Dawn said of the Sexual Assault Resource Center.

“It breaks my heart to think about them losing funding. I can’t imagine going through any part of this by ourselves.”

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com

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