TAMPA, Fla. - Put simply, Michele Wykes is heartbroken.
"It did bring me to tears today, all of the staff here at Sexual Assault Services to tears. This is huge," she said Tuesday night with a sigh.
The compassionate mother of three has been a dedicated activist with the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay for the past eight years.
As director of Sexual Assault Services, she sees rape victims each and every day. "When they seek our help, we celebrate their life. We are honored that they come to us for help," Michele admitted.
But a recent action by Governor Rick Scott, she says, is the ultimate slap in the face. Florida's governor issued a controversial line-item veto, taking away crucial funding for 30 rape crisis centers all over the state.
After seeing the faces of women and men who suffer, Michele says she can't imagine what the governor was thinking. "We had no idea that he would not understand the need for this money. So, when we received the news today, it was almost a punch to the stomach and we were shocked," she said.
For rape crisis centers near you, visit our list here.
But, what really shocked Michele and her staff at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay the most is that the governor would call for this veto during Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a time when rape victims are empowered and honored.
Michele says there's only one thing left to do.
She is officially going on record and making a public plea to Governor Rick Scott to change his mind by paying a visit to the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.
"I would sit him down very calmly and really, truly try to educate him," Michele said.
So, why would the governor do away with $1.5 million that could help victims of rape at 30 crisis centers around Florida, including locations in Hillsborough and Pinellas? The governor's press secretary, Lane Wright, said, "We already fund sexual violence programs. There was no information suggesting any needs in this area that weren't already being met."
Victim's advocate Nichole Cason wants victims to know that they will always have a place to go with gentle, professional, well-trained people to take care of them. "As an advocate, we want to be there to support victims of sexual violence and trauma, and this funding could have really helped us do that and expand our services," she said.
Michele also pointed out that this money is absolutely crucial since, in Hillsborough County alone, there are only three advocates handling dozens of cases each.
The now-vetoed money would have gone directly to help rape victims. "Maybe if he had that information and been informed, he would have thought twice about taking that money away," Michele said.
So, Governor Scott, if you're reading this, you have an official invitation to come to Tampa on behalf of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay. The staff at the Crisis Center says they want to show you exactly how they're changing lives every day.
All services for rape victims are free, including exams, medication, and initial counseling.
If you are the victim of sexual assault, you can call 2-1-1 for help. You'll be connected with victims' services.