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New report shows challenges for SLO County women 

In San Luis Obispo County, a significant number of teenage girls experience chronic sadness; the rate of forcible rape perpetrated against females is almost twice as high as the statewide rate; and binge drinking among women is much higher than it is statewide.

That is according to a report recently released on behalf of the Women’s Legacy Fund, an endowment fund of The Community Foundation of San Luis Obispo County.

The report, titled “What Do Women Need? Issues Impacting Women and Girls in San Luis Obispo County” and released on Nov. 20, is intended to highlight areas in which women and girls are struggling to have basic needs met. The report was compiled by using gender-based data from a number of sources, including the U.S. Census, California Department of Public Health, and the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County (CAPSLO) Community Action Plan.

Linda Reitner, chair of the Women’s Legacy Fund Committee, said that the group will use these statistics to better direct grant funding.

“We’ve got the statistics, we’ve got the information, and now we’ve got to figure out how to solve the problems,” Reitner said.

The report itself doesn’t get into the reasons behind the statistics. Rather, it’s intended to highlight problem areas that the fund can now focus on and identify the best organizations to direct grant funds to.

“I’m not sure the ‘why’ matters as much as what can we do to start mitigating this problem,” Reitner said.

The report said that 13 percent of women said they had gone without a basic need in the last year. Of that, health care was cited the most often, by 9 percent of those who responded to survey questions, and 4 percent said they’d gone without food.

In addition, the number of SLO County families living in poverty increased from 6 percent in 2008 to 7 percent in 2013. That increase—and rates in general—are greater for households headed by women without a husband present, showing an increase from 18 percent in 2008 to 22 percent in 2013 for female households, and from 24 to 29 percent for those with children.

In some problem areas, the percentage of women and girls impacted is significantly higher in SLO County than it is statewide.

The report says that in 2014, SLO and Marin counties had the highest rates of binge drinking (defined as consuming more than four alcoholic drinks on one occasion) in the state. Of women 21 and older, 46 percent reported at least one episode of binge drinking, up significantly from previous years. The rate of reported forcible rape in SLO County was almost double the statewide rate, at 39 per 100,000 people, as opposed to 20 per 100,000 statewide.

In other areas, rates in SLO County are comparable to those statewide. That includes chronic sadness among teenage girls, which the report identifies as a growing problem. More than 40 percent of those in ninth and 11th grade reported that they went through a period of at least two weeks in which they felt so sad or helpless that they stopped doing some of their usual activities. That number grew more than 5 percent between 2009 and 2014. The report also showed that 33.9 percent of seventh-, ninth-, and 11th-graders reported depression-related feelings, compared to the statewide average of 36.2 percent.

While the majority of women (88 percent) reported that their mental health is excellent, very good, or good, 16 percent “of county women say they have felt the need to discuss problems or situations with a mental health professional, but did not have the money or insurance to do so.”

All told, the purpose of the report was to show that there are several issues that need increased attention and support, said Janice Fong Wolf, director of grants and programs at the Community Foundation.

“Everyone says that SLO County is a wonderful place, and it is, but there are still populations that have needs that aren’t being addressed,” Wolf said.

-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay

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