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Orange County Rape Crisis Center faces debilitating funding, budget cuts

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Orange County Rape Crisis Center is a Chapel Hill-based nonprofit located off of East Franklin Street on Sunday, April 2, 2023.

As it prepares to enter its 50th year of service, the Orange County Rape Crisis Center is facing debilitating budget cuts.

In an August press release, the OCRCC said the center has to reduce the scope of some of its services and cut staff by 50 percent to stay afloat. With an increase in demand of over 80 percent since 2020, the community will feel the strain of this funding loss, the press release said.

The OCRCC, along with many other centers in North Carolina, is partly funded through the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) — which was passed in 1984 and established the Crime Victims Fund (CVF). The money in this fund is provided by fines and penalties paid in federal court.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the money available in the VOCA funds has declined by 74 percent since 2018. 

Sandy Dixon is the lead planner of Crime Victim Services, the committee within the N.C. Department of Public Safety that handles the administration of VOCA funds. Dixon said that because of steadily declining funds, the Crime Victim Services committee must cap the amount each center or program can receive.

In 2018, North Carolina was awarded over $100 million for victim assistance programs, more than twice the $42 million awarded this year.

When making decisions on recipient awards, the committee sets aside 10 percent of the VOCA funds for rape crisis centers and projects focused on child abuse and domestic violence. This money is non-competitive, unlike other VOCA grants, Dixon said.

“The commission has felt for many, many years now that those are fundamental services,” Dixon said. 

Kathleen Lockwood, policy director at the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said she hoped there would have been federal or state intervention to prevent the situation the OCRCC is experiencing, especially because they have seen a decline in funding for many years.

“It's incredibly disappointing that it's gotten to the point where programs are considering cutting their staffing or closing altogether,” she said.

In 2021, President Joe Biden signed the VOCA Fix Act, which was intended to create more stability in the CVF so it can continue to fund centers like OCRCC. Previously, the CVF was financed only by prosecuted cases, but the new law expanded to include penalties from settlement or other non-prosecution agreements. 

According to the Department of Justice, almost $1 billion has been deposited into the Crime Victims Fund since the enactment of the new law.

Lockwood said while the act was a very important step, the problem is that many lawmakers felt it was a total solution to the problem. The reality, she said, is that it will take years to sustain the Crime Victims Fund and stabilize funding for crisis centers. 

The fix didn't come soon enough for OCRCC, which — according to Associate Director Laing — has lost around 33 percent of its funding. She said she feels that local and state governments should help fill the gap during this funding crisis.

Currently, the OCRCC competes against things like art and green space for local grants, but Laing believes support for sexual violence survivors should be a stand-alone item on local and state budgets.

While OCRCC data shows the number of people requesting services is increasing, Laing said local and state funding has decreased in recent years.

“Sexual violence is not going away anytime soon, so it should be mandatory to have funding for survivors,” she said.

Since the announcement of the OCRCC funding cuts, Laing said the center has received overwhelming support in the form of donations from community members and those impacted by the center.

Unfortunately, Laing said, donations from businesses or individuals won’t be able to close the large gap created by the loss of VOCA funds, so the center will still have to adapt to its new budget.

In addition to cutting 50 percent of its staff, the OCRCC will now provide therapy services to only 40 percent of its previous caseload and discontinue its trauma care therapist network. The center will also only provide case management services in the most pressing matters and reduce the scope of its prevention programming in local K-12 schools.

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