“I am alive today because of the Women's Resource Center.”- Women’s Resource Center client
“If not for the Women's Resource Center, my children and I would be on the street.” -Women’s Resource Center client
Every year, Women’s Resource Center, Inc. (WRC) in Scranton serves almost 2,000 survivors of violent crime, especially victims of crimes like domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and human trafficking. They provide legal representation, therapy, advocacy, immediate crisis intervention, and safe housing. WRC also responds to nearly 9,000 hotline calls annually. WRC’s impact is incalculable; one might assume they have helped every abuse victim in Scranton. Unfortunately, over 100,000 people in the Scranton area are likely victims of sexual or domestic violence. WRC needs every dollar available to help.
WRC is one of almost 150 organizations in Pennsylvania that receive Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) funding, which comes from fines paid by federal criminals rather than from taxpayers. Since VOCA was passed in 1984, organizations across the U.S. receive funding from the federal government to provide services to crime victims. On average, every county in Pennsylvania has at least two organizations that receive VOCA funds. These dollars help victims of crimes that cause physical, sexual, financial, or emotional harm, including domestic violence, child abuse, human trafficking, and sexual assault. Services include counseling, housing, legal advocacy, healthcare, and other critical assistance. That’s why it’s so troubling that Pennsylvania US Senator Pat Toomey has now objected twice to measures necessary to sustain and strengthen VOCA.
VOCA-funded organizations save lives daily and help survivors heal from their trauma. These services were deemed essential during the pandemic and remained operational. For many victims, home was not a safe place. Isolation intensified the trauma of past and present sexual abuse; service providers were able to address this increased need with VOCA funds. These organizations offer a spectrum of care to survivors and their families and coordinate resources in a trauma-informed manner. Because many victims are in a tangled web of physical, emotional, psychological, and financial crises, specialized support is crucial. Without it, victims often cannot access any services at all.
Supporting victims is reason enough to promote VOCA and its essential role in our communities. But that’s not the only purpose VOCA serves. VOCA also helps survivors seek legal redress, which identifies perpetrators in our communities and brings them to justice.
Most victims do not find justice within the criminal justice system due to systemic barriers and the impacts of trauma. Many crime victims may not recognize their abuse as a crime, due to the many impacts of trauma and the ways in which our society blames victims for the abuse they suffer. Victims are often unaware that they can file a report, access services, and advocate for their rights with the assistance of victim service providers. Victims of sexual abuse face many barriers in reporting to authorities and seeing perpetrators held accountable. These include limited financial resources, safety concerns, or the re-traumatization associated with the legal process. When survivors feel alone and unsupported, accessing the criminal justice system can seem impossible, which means people who have committed crimes in our communities are not identified and brought to justice. This magnifies victims’ pain and makes our society more dangerous.
VOCA-funded organizations help to end this cycle. They help survivors cope with trauma and identify resources that enhance their healing and safety. They also help survivors obtain jobs, secure housing, and healthcare, which empowers victims to thrive in their lives, families, workplaces, and communities,. VOCA-funded legal advocacy and therapy enable survivors to seek legal redress. These programs support victims and keep all of us safe by helping survivors to assist law enforcement in holding criminals accountable.
Unfortunately, since 2018, annual VOCA funds have decreased by more than half. Even worse, VOCA is at risk of bankruptcy.
VOCA is not funded by taxpayers, but rather fines paid by federal criminals. Due to recent administrative changes, many fines that should have gone to VOCA were displaced and redirected into the General Treasury.
A bipartisan bill called the VOCA Fix Act would correct this problem. This legislation would improve the long-term financial stability of VOCA and all the organizations it benefits.
Unless the VOCA Fix Act is passed by September, VOCA will functionally go bankrupt. That means $4.5 million annually will be cut from vital programs across Pennsylvania. This could result in over 570,000 victims being denied the help they need, as well as massive staff layoffs and perhaps bankruptcy at organizations dedicated to keeping our communities safe. That means people who abuse others will remain in our communities, unidentified.
On June 17th and again on June 23rd, Senator Pat Toomey blocked the VOCA Fix Act from passing. If you want to support victims and keep Pennsylvania safe, call him and tell him to protect our communities by passing the VOCA Fix Act.
Chief Executive Officer
Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape