The day – Advocates for victims of domestic violence warn of cutbacks in federal funding
Federal funding for programs dedicated to victims of crime has declined, and those who work with victims are concerned about the impact on the Connecticut organizations that help them.
The Victims of Crime Act, passed in 1984, created a funding pool for state and local victim service groups and programs, which is not funded by taxpayers. Instead, the Crime Victims Fund is funded by fines following federal convictions. In recent years, VOCA funds have declined dramatically due to “prosecution strategies that have changed over the past decade,” according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence.
The Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence has 18 member organizations. He sent a letter to US Senator Chris Murphy on April 7 asking him to support the Fix Act and explain why more money was needed.
“Instead of prosecuting federal crimes, especially white-collar crimes, the Department of Justice is increasingly relying on no-prosecution and postponement agreements,” read the letter. . “If these cases had been prosecuted, the financial penalties would have been deposited into the Fund. Instead, money that would otherwise go to the victims is deposited into the General Treasury.”
In 2020, the money CCADV received from decreased fund by 25%, “and victim service providers have been told to expect further potentially catastrophic cuts,” the letter read. “Cuts of the magnitude we are aware of would devastate Connecticut’s domestic violence service system.”
The decline in funding led to the VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act of 2021, which the US House of Representatives passed in March. Now it is up to the US Senate to move the bill forward. It amends the VOCA Act to allow money from penalties and fines in deferred and non-prosecution agreements to be deposited into the Crime Victims Fund.
Safe Futures of New London Executive Director Katherine Verano has been one of the many calls not only for Congress to pass the VOCA Fix Act, but also to determine how organizations like hers will be funded years after year. advanced. In some ways, the bill currently in the Senate is an interim measure, Verano said.
“It’s not just adopting it, it’s also the 25% decrease in the money that supports it, how to get it back?” Said Verano. “Beyond just keeping it for now, they have to figure out how to put it back together later.”
Verano provided details on the services that VOCA funding helps provide to Safe Futures. One of them allows lawyers in criminal and civil courts to work with victims of arrests for domestic violence.
“You could have 20 indictments Monday morning in New London court just for domestic violence cases,” Verano said.
Advocates work on behalf of victims who are afraid to go and confront their attacker in court.
“The lawyer can work with you over the phone or in one of our offices and advocate for you in court, with the prosecutor, in family relationships,” Verano said. “Maybe three months later with the case underway, you might need an amendment for a protection order. A lawyer is there to do all of this work, and on a confidential basis. They are the only people. of the courthouse to have this confidentiality. “
Civil court lawyers also offer assistance in processing restraining orders.
“All of our services are free and confidential because sometimes victims cannot afford a lawyer, and maybe their funds are tied to those of their partner,” Verano said. “Part of the abuse is monetary abuse, emotional abuse, power and control. Offenders have public defenders if they cannot afford a lawyer.”
Last year, Safe Futures worked with over 7,000 victims, which does not include children affected by domestic violence. In total, CCADV organizations each year support more than 34,000 victims who pass through the justice system.
In the coalition’s letter to Murphy, he said its member organizations have been able to increase advocacy in civil courts “to help the more than 8,000 victims who seek restraining orders annually.”
Verano said his organization is also using the funding to hire a law enforcement attorney who works with the Lethality Assessment Program, which police use to assess a victim’s risk of murder.
“The cops will ask a series of questions at the scene, and if it poses a high risk of murder, they contact us immediately and put this victim in contact with services,” said Verano.
The lawyer then provides these services to a victim.
She said that in 2020 there had been an increase in the condition of about 1,200 screens of the Lethality Assessment Program. In total, 54% of victims screened were deemed to be at great risk, and 94% of these victims use domestic violence services.
Safe Futures has advocates working in its offices who depend on funding from VOCA. These services and many more are at stake, says Verano, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic is linked to an increase in domestic violence. One of the functions of Safe Futures is to provide shelter to victims. A year before the pandemic began, between March and January, the organization spent around $ 14,000 on hotel costs when its shelters were overcapacity. He spent over $ 126,000 for the same period during the pandemic.
In April 2020, The Day reported that incidents of domestic violence had dramatically increased in the first month of the pandemic. At the time, calls to Safe Futures domestic violence hotlines had increased by 20%.
During that time, three Safe Futures clients died in three weeks: one by drug overdose, one by suicide and one by murder, traumatizing staff. The new London police responded to 30 more reports of domestic violence between March 1 and April 15, 2020 than during the same period in 2019.
Those in need of assistance can call the Safe Futures Helpline, (860) 701-6000 or (888) 774-2900, or visit ConnecticutSafeConnect. The agency’s office at 16 Jay St., New London, is open with additional security measures in place, and victim advocates continue to work in the justice system.
State Representative Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, said the state judiciary briefed lawmakers on the VOCA issue last week. She said the amount of funding is going down, and “there is a cliff in 2022 where basically we have to ask ourselves, ‘How are we going to pay for this? “”
She said the US Senate bill, at the very least, “changes VOCA’s funding structure to help solve this problem,” she added.
Cheeseman pointed out that Mothers Against Drunk Driving, a nonprofit that aims to stop drinking and driving, and other groups also receive funding from VOCA. Across the United States, more than 6,000 local organizations dedicated to serving victims of all types of crime receive funding from VOCA. In addition to Safe Futures in New London, the 17 other CCADV member organizations include the United Services domestic violence program in Willimantic and New Horizons in Middletown.
“If you don’t have these services, if everything is cut, the state and the coalitions have to make a decision: who is cut, what is cut and what programs continue?” Asked Verano.