What do you do when you want to balance the budget and don't know how to compromise? Well, if you're Congress, you raid $1.5 billion from a fund set up specifically for crime victims and hope no one notices.
The Victims of Crime Act fund, set up by Congress in 1984, is distributed to states to support local domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers, and a variety of victim assistance programs for survivors of trauma and crime. The thing is, this is a self-sufficient federal fund — meaning that it doesn't come from taxpayer money but rather the fines and penalties imposed on criminals and offenders.
From the Wall Street Journal:
The unprecedented transfer, part of closed-door negotiations between the Obama administration and congressional leaders, has raised the ire of advocates. They say it violates the integrity of a decades-old program that funds safe havens for domestic violence victims, counseling for abused children and financial aid for murder victims’ families, among other programs.
So what kinds of things does VOCA pay for?
- Medical bills
- Burial costs
- Lost wages
- Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (nurses specifically trained to conduct forensic exams for rape victims)
- A change of clothes for rape victims so theirs can be collected for evidence
- Crime victim advocates (trained individuals who advise victims of the forensic and legal processes)
- Emergency shelters
- So. Much. More.
According to reporting by Broadly. (a VICE publication), this level of financial gutting has real consequences for local responders across the country.
Rebecca O'Connor is the Vice President for Public Policy at the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN). She said she understands why, with a $12 billion balance, pulling $1.5 billion out of VOCA might seem minor. She also said she has heard the arguments that crime is going down, so there is less need for victim services, and that the field can't absorb $2 billion every year. But, "There are false arguments," O'Connor said. "This money is absolutely needed, and anyone who works in the field can tell you that. Imagine being a survivor and reaching out for help, which is such a brave step, and there is no one to call. The reality is that if we cut off services at the state level, we are cutting off lifelines."
Don't let Congress get away with this. Take action now to ensure that victim services funding is restored and not used to pay government bills.