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Rape crisis agencies, already burdened by cuts, brace for more

A decline in federal prosecutions has created a shortage of funding for organizations serving survivors of sexual violence.
sexual violence survivors
Survivors of sexual violence are often reluctant to seek help. (AdobeStock)
COLUMBUS — Six months after rape crisis funding suffered massive cuts, agencies across Ohio are struggling to ensure the needs of survivors are met.

The Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), is the largest source of funding for victim service providers and is funded entirely from criminal fines.

VOCA dollars have been shrinking because of a decline in federal prosecutions. Ohio's is down 40 percent for the fiscal year.

Ryn Farmer, director of Lima-based Day One of Crime Victim Services of Allen and Putnam counties, said with less funding, they've had to reduce staff, and response services are spread thinly, especially in rural areas.

She worries rape survivors won't be able to find help when they need it.

"When you experience violent harm on your body, and you don't have the support or resources that are needed to help, it disrupts the body's ability to heal," Farmer said.

Molly MacMath, executive director of COMPASS Family and Community Services in northeastern Ohio, said her organization has also struggled with the funding cuts. She hopes a U.S. House bill which allocates fines from non-prosecution agreements to VOCA will pass in the Senate.

"But it's not an immediate fix," MacMath said. "It's going to take time. Even if Congress were to pass the VOCA fix legislation, it would be awhile until that money filtered down."

Advocates also are calling on Ohio lawmakers to increase the line-item funding in the state budget for rape-crisis programs. Meanwhile, another round of VOCA cuts of up to 34 percent is coming in October.

Farmer pointed out the number of survivors seeking assistance rose 20 percent since the pandemic began, which means they are doing more with fewer resources. She added sustainable, meaningful funding is especially crucial for underserved sexual violence survivors.

"So survivors from communities of color and Indigenous populations, survivors from immigrant communities, survivors with disabilities, survivors from the elder population, and survivors who identify as LGBTQ," Farmer said.

MacMath urged Ohioans to support increased funding for victims of sexual assault.

"You never know when yourself or someone you love is going to be affected by crime," MacMath said. "And agencies serving crime victims are hurting, and we're scared of what the future's going to hold."

Ohio's VOCA funding for fiscal year 2021 was about $38 million, a five-year low.