In December, I accepted my dream job as the Director of Prevention and Communication at my local domestic violence and sexual assault crisis center. It’s the only resource center for survivors in my community. And as a survivor who has received services from a similar center, I know how critical these organizations are. I supervised prevention educators who go into schools and teach children about consent, healthy relationships, and how to report perpetrators of sexual abuse and grooming.
In late February, some members of the leadership team were talking in hushed tones about funding cuts and the uncertain future of the organization. We eventually learned that federal funding had been severely depleted, and organizations were going to lose a lot of money. In May, my position was eliminated.
• Vote for candidates who support organizations that help survivors.
• Donate to Safe Passage, Inc* or your local crisis center. *For transprency, this is where I worked.
• Volunteer with your local domestic violence or sexual assault crisis center.
This year, organizations that support victims of crime, including domestic violence and sexual assault crisis centers, have seen drastic funding cuts due to the depletion of the Crime Victims Fund over the past few years. Money recovered through fines and penalties in federal crime cases supported the Crime Victims Fund (NIWRC). However, funding slowed when the Trump administration pulled back from prosecuting white-collar federal crimes, instead favoring deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements.
In 2021, Congress passed the VOCA Fix Act, requiring funds from deferred prosecutions and non-prosecution agreements to be deposited into the Crime Victims Fund (Congress). But the fund will take time to be replenished. In my home state of Illinois, rape crisis centers have lost nearly half of their funding (WGEM).
Centers that support survivors of domestic and sexual violence provide critical services to individuals who often don’t know where else to turn. My organization has an emergency shelter for survivors, which helps with the financial barriers that survivors often face. Domestic violence often includes financial abuse, meaning survivors often do not have the money to leave their partners.
The organization also had long-term housing available to shelter clients, meaning they could access affordable housing for up to two years while they got back on their feet. Considering how getting into an apartment can cost thousands of dollars when you factor in move-in costs, first and last month’s rent, and a security deposit (The Nation), access to affordable housing gives survivors a fighting chance.
Despite the funding cuts, these services are still available, but they often have long waitlists for counseling services and receive more calls for shelter than they can accommodate. The organization is in the middle of a capital campaign to double its shelter beds, but this campaign only funds the physical building, not the 24/7 staff required to maintain the demand for services.
Most people think of crisis centers only as emergency shelters, but they do so much more. Medical advocates are on-call at most centers 24/7 to support survivors through the invasive and time-consuming process of having a rape kit completed (Time). They also help survivors of domestic violence.
Legal advocates support survivors through emergency protection orders, civil no-contact orders, criminal proceedings, and family court. Case managers are available to help survivors find resources. Counselors are available to help process trauma and heal from violence. And prevention teams (like the one I supervised) provide critical education to school children and adults. All of these services are provided at no cost to survivors — and loss in funding often means that services must be cut or reduced.
There is a lot of confusion around how crisis centers receive funding and a lack of awareness about the federal funding that helps survivors. Still, domestic and sexual violence crisis centers are vital, especially for marginalized individuals. People of color experiencing sexual violence have nuanced barriers. The funding they receive is inadequate to meet their needs, even in the best of circumstances.
Women of color are more likely to be victims of violence than any other demographic. Black women make up 22% of domestic violence homicides, although they only account for 8% of the population (YWCA). Women of color are more likely to experience sexual violence in their lifetime (CalCASA). Half of transgender individuals are victims of sexual abuse or sexual assault (Office for Victims of Crime). Although the United States has begun to consider asylum cases for individuals facing domestic violence in their home countries, undocumented people experiencing violence are often afraid to report due to fears of being deported. Often partners will use their undocumented status as a means of power and control, so the survivor is afraid to seek help. Most crisis organizations recognize this and help all individuals regardless of immigration status.
Before state and federal funding, activists put survivors in their own homes. They provided support for little to no pay because they understood that this work helped save lives and couldn’t wait. But advocacy is work that deserves to be funded. It is critical right now to offer organizations financial support, volunteer hours, and participate in activism that calls attention to the anti-violent movement.
• Domestic violence and sexual assault crisis centers received funding from the prosecutions of federal crimes due to the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA).
• During the Trump administration, the federal government stepped back from prosecuting federal crimes in favor of deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements, reducing funding to the Crime Victims Fund.
• Although Congress passed the VOCA Fix Act in 2021 to restore the Crime Victims Fund, organizations are still experiencing substantial funding cuts.
If you or anyone you know is affected by intimate partner violence, you can call 1-800-799-7233 or text “START” to 88788. You can go to the National Domestic Violence Hotline for additional information.