Why Rape Crisis Centers are Fighting for Their Own Existence

Congress is slow to act

Welcome back Chaise Lounge readers, and a warm welcome to our newest subscribers! This week we will dive into the crisis the rape crisis centers and other groups supporting victims of crime are facing in funding. This is a must-read and act on an issue that could affect any one of us or a family member at any time. But first, let’s take a look at some other news.

Global News

  • A study by top U.S. intelligence analysts warns that if the Taliban regain control of Afghanistan, women’s rights will take a big hit. The report warns, “The Taliban remains broadly consistent in its restrictive approach to women’s rights and would roll back much of the past two decades of progress if the group regains national power” 

  • Australia is investing $1.3 to shore up the childcare sector of its economy. The money is intended to attract women back to work. The funding target families with more than one child providing a subsidy.

National News

  • A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds that women in the U.S. are reaching menopause at a later age. As a result, the number of years during which women can conceive and deliver a baby is extended by two years. This is good news in regard to heart health, but potentially bad news with regard to hormone-positive cancers like breast cancer and endometrial cancer.

    Why Rape Crisis Centers are Fighting for Their Own Existence

Rape crisis centers around the United States are in crisis themselves. The centers depend on federal funds that flow from the Crime Victims Fund (CVF) of the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) for anywhere from 50-80% of their budgets. But those funds have dried up due to changes in how the funds are derived, leaving rape crisis centers scathed by the lack of support from Congress.

The money for the fund comes from the prosecution of convicted federal offenders and the resulting fines. Over the past decade, and particularly over the past four years, prosecutorial strategies have moved heavily toward deferred prosecution or no prosecution with fines. Since the fines are not from a technical crime due to the deferred prosecution, that money is being put back into the general Department of Justice fund instead of the CVF funds. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, “The underlying basis for these agreements, however, are violations of federal criminal law, making these payments the functional equivalent of criminal fines. In 2018 alone, DOJ collected billions of dollars that could have been deposited into the CVF (Crime Victim’s Fund) but were not, due to the type of agreement used.”

Presently, the House has passed the VOCA Fix Act and it has been introduced into the Senate. The act “directs revenues collected from deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements to be deposited into the Crime Victims Fund.” While this act will make for a long-term fix if passed, it can take up to two years for those federal funds to reach a rape crisis center. In the meantime,  rape crisis centers are having to cut their staff and programming.

State funds must be released

$198 million in funds from the American Rescue Plan can be used to support rape crisis centers, but states have not released them for this purpose. Additionally, funds from the CARES Act have not been distributed. With the crunch from the federal fund being depleted, it is even more important for states to make sure these funds get to the rape crisis centers immediately.

One case study

As just one example of the chaos this situation brings, the Orange County Rape Crisis Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina is facing a $300,000 shortfall and is planning to lay off one-third of its staff in September. Executive Director Rachel Valentine says, “We were trying to make reductions across the board without fully canceling any program. But we found that we are $15K short in funding our SafeTouch program in the schools, so we will have to cancel it unless we can find other funds.” She added that the reduction in services will add to waiting lists for much-needed counseling and other services. And, the issues that they are experiencing are repeated across the country. 

Valentine and other executive directors expect that the need for services will increase significantly as the pandemic winds down. During the pandemic, she says, “There has  been a chilling effect on reporting.” Survivors have been more focused on their day-to-day economic distress. Additionally, Valentine’s staff has not been in the schools due to COVID. When they are in session, students report abuse or rape to the crisis center counselors. They also send home materials to parents and family members which sometimes provokes new reports. They all expect that once schools and businesses open up, their crisis centers will have excess need right at the time their budgets are shrinking dramatically. 

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Valentine says that this is “a national problem with community-based solutions”, at least until the federal government issues get ironed out. She is meeting with state and local elected officials to make sure that they understand that victim’s services are part of the American Rescue Plan. She is also working with the local public schools to see if the school system can pay for the SafeTouch services that the center has provided for years at no cost. 

National Impact

According to Monika Johnson Hostler, president of the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, centers across the country will need to cut staff beginning in July. For smaller centers, this might mean going from three employees to one. There will be a decrease in free trauma-informed therapy and long waiting lists for services. Hostler says, “A large number of people who provide direct services are survivors themselves. We had people providing services through the most traumatic time in our country who were experiencing their own level of trauma because of COVID. To now potentially have to lay those people off is unfathomable to me...People will be laid off at a time where we have access to federal and state funds.”

It’s Not Only Rape Victims

The Crime Victims Fund supports anyone who has been a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, trafficking, and drunk driving. It also includes the Victim’s Compensation Fund. By providing medical and mental health support, replacement of lost wages, and paying for funeral and burial costs, the fund can ease the economic pain that violent crimes bring. The fund supplies state grants for crisis intervention, counseling, emergency shelter, criminal justice advocacy, and emergency transportation. Domestic violence programs, shelters, rape crisis centers, and community mental health programs depend on these dollars to provide services to victims of crimes.

So what can you do to help?

Please call both of your Senators and let them know that you want them to expedite the passage of the VOCA Fix Act. Call Senator Mitch McConnell’s office and let him know that you want this bill out of committee and up for a vote.

If you live in North Carolina, call your General Assembly members and tell them to increase appropriations to rape crisis centers. 

And, if you can, please donate generously to your local rape crisis or domestic violence center today. This is not an easy problem to fix, and survivors deserve to have access to a place to go for support. It’s the least we can do to support them.

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