Victims of Crime Act
The Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) Fund was created by Congress in 1984 to provide federal support to state and local programs that assist victims of crime. These funds support services to 4 million victims of all types of crimes annually, through 4,400 direct service agencies such as domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers, and child abuse treatment programs. VOCA state assistance grants provide funding for crisis intervention, counseling, transportation, services for elder victims and victims with disabilities, volunteer coordinators, translation services, needs assessments, and other support services that help victims deal with the trauma and aftermath of a crime.
The VOCA Fund is unique in that it is generated by fines paid by federal criminals, instead of taxpayer dollars. Out of concern that deposits could vary from year to year, Congress decided to set a “cap” on the Fund, limiting the amount of money that can be distributed from it in a given year.
However, the balance in the VOCA Fund has now reached an unprecedented level, and it continues to grow steadily. Now is the time to establish a long-term, logical, and consistent basis for determining the annual VOCA cap and restore the power of the Fund to support lifesaving services for victims of crime.
Additional VOCA funds are critically needed to respond to the crisis caused by the dangerous gap in available services for victims of domestic and sexual violence.
The gap in services for domestic violence and sexual assault victims is critical. According to a 2013 survey of rape crisis centers, over one-third of programs have a waiting list for services such as counseling and support groups, while over half had to lay off staff. In 2013, domestic violence programs laid off nearly 1,700 staff positions including counselors, advocates and children’s advocates, and also had to reduce or completely eliminate over 1,280 services including emergency shelter, legal advocacy, and counseling. In an effort to stay open with limited funding, many programs are eliminating services such as individual counseling or programs for children. On just one day in 2013, while domestic violence program served over 66,000 victims, these same programs were unable to meet 9,641 requests for services that day because of a lack of resources.
Vision 21, an initiative of the Office for Victims of Crime, is the first comprehensive assessment of the victim assistance field in nearly 15 years. After a collaborative process involving literature reviews, stakeholder meetings, and more, the Vision 21: Transforming Victim Services Report discusses topics such as:
- The need for increased capacity and infrastructure improvements in order to better serve victims.
- The significant need for increased access to legal assistance to help victims address the range of legal issues that can arise following victimization
- The impact of advances in technology, globalization, and changing demographics on the victim assistance field.
- The challenges, as well as importance, of integrating research and into victim services and building a body of evidence-based knowledge about victimization, services, and more.
We urge Congress to release at least an average of the last 3 years’ deposits from the VOCA fund. We also request that funding be provided for a Native American tribal funding stream for victim services to address the desperate need on tribal lands.