COLUMBUS, Ohio — In an already challenging year, advocates for sexual-assault survivors in Ohio are grappling with major funding cuts.
The state's network of crime victim service programs and agencies relies almost exclusively on funding from the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA).
In 2019, VOCA grants decreased by 25%, and for the new fiscal year, funding is cut nearly 40% across the state.
Taylr Ucker-Lauderman, director of communications for the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, said that's about 20 million fewer dollars, and Ohio is left to pick up the pieces.
"We've built some amazing programs around crime victim rights, around forensic kit testing, around law enforcement strategies," Ucker-Lauderman stated. "Ohio never was supporting these programs on its own, and we can't just automatically start doing that. So, we need federal legislators to also bridge this gap."
VOCA is funded entirely through fines and penalties paid by federal criminal offenders, so fewer prosecutions means fewer dollars.
Ucker-Lauderman thinks funding for victim services needs to be more diversified, and include dedicated state and federal sources.
Ucker-Lauderman added sexual violence prevention programs are examining how to operate with fewer resources.
In some cases, she noted, crisis centers may not have a therapist available, or be able to provide hotel vouchers for relocation. Survivors are already reluctant to come forward, and she's concerned they'll become even more discouraged.
"There have been times where we have to say, 'We don't have the funds available to provide the help for you.' So we have to turn them away," Ucker-Lauderman explained. "When that happens, it is very discouraging. We have had people tell us, 'I gave up because nobody could help me.' That's heartbreaking."
She pointed out one in four people is a survivor of sexual violence, so ensuring adequate resources are available for victims should be important to all Ohioans.
"This is their neighbors; this is their family, and this is their friends," Ucker-Lauderman stressed. "We absolutely cannot leave victims of crime on their own to pick up the pieces. We just can't."
According to the Office of Criminal Justice Services, surviving a crime like sexual assault disrupts the lives of thousands of Ohioans each year, emotionally, psychologically and financially.