A Vision for Equity in Victim Services: What Do the Data Tell Us About the Work Ahead?
OVC and Bureau of Justice Statistics Fellow Heather Warnken, J.D., LL.M. presents her work and vision to ensure equity in victim services. Ms. Warnken highlights statistics on racial disparities and violent victimization. She discusses the need to ensure that programing is in place to reach victims of color and how OVC-administered Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) assistance and compensation funds, a major funding source for victim services throughout the Nation, and other discretionary funds, can be used to expand access to justice across all communities.
Kathrina Peterson: We are so excited and grateful Heather that you are taking time to share with us your data and your analysis and how it is impacting how we are serving victims of color and/or not serving victims of color and missing such a huge and important population and organizations that are serving victims of color.
So for those of you who do not know, Heather. Heather is an OVC fellow. She serves both in the Office for Victims of Crime and the Bureau of Justice Statistics. She has dedicated her life to studying racial inequities in Federal funding and we'll be discussing that with us today and really looking at the data and how it applies to both VOCA assistance and compensation funding and its impact on victims of color.
So Heather, I want to turn it over to you.
Heather Warnken: Thank you so much, Kate. Hi, everyone. I'm truly honored to be here with you today for such an important summit and really looking forward to contributing my portion of vision for equity in victim services, what do the data tell us about the work ahead.
As Kate mentioned, I've been serving in this visiting fellowship co-affiliated with OVC and BJS for 5 years now in the first position really focused on bridging the gap between research and practice in victim assistance.
So I'm going to start with giving a little bit of a roadmap of our time together today, I'll start by framing our conversation and why this matters.
I'll dive into some data findings focused on racial disparities and violent victimization, both sharing some of my own original work, as well as pulling in some key findings from others. And I want to say at the outset that a vision for equity is such a massive an important topic with so many different important sub-topics that each in themselves could and should have an entire day long summit devoted to them.
So what I'll be doing today is really skimming the surface on so many of these sub-topics, but I hope getting us inspired and motivated for this longer term work ahead.
I'll shift from those findings into an application of some thoughts about what does this mean for the field. And in particular, opportunities to embrace data driven strategies and solutions in both our strategic planning and decisionmaking and in the substance, and equally important, the process of VOCA grant making on both the assistance and the compensation side.
So starting with some framing as will be such a consistent topic throughout today, there is no sugar-coating the challenges that the field is facing financially and otherwise. But I wanted to draw attention to the fact that I think this includes a combination of two powerful sources of pressure and fear that are notorious, not just in victim services, but much more broadly.
In driving poor decisionmaking, not founded in the evidence, obviously, the fear surrounding diminished resources and the concerns and pressures, not to shutter existing programs is huge, but I also want to draw our attention to another, which is rising crime rates. So we're currently facing a spike in violence in the U.S., which is now getting increasing attention.
But so important for our purposes and for the headlines and the conversation around this issue moving forward is that these national trends have always masked the fact that this violence has never been distributed evenly. These spikes have been disproportionately felt in low income communities of color, just as they always have been.
And for decades reactive decisions surrounding crime too often and have been based in fear, rather than evidence, often the aberration of a tragic incident far outside the norm, yet, resulting in extreme policy measures, hoping to prevent it from happening again. But recent years have brought forth a bipartisan reckoning for our need to rethink many of the policies that have led the U.S. into a fiscally and morally unsustainable crisis of both over-incarceration and deep distrust of the various systems designed to keep us safe. It's bringing forth a bipartisan collaboration to reimagine safety and healing, led by communities, backed by evidence and free from fear.
Jurisdictions throughout the country are taking hard looks at their long standing ways of doing business, bringing forth more evolved public health and trauma informed lenses that are more capable of interrupting cycles of harm and there are more sustainable and affordable in the long term. In the places that are doing it right you as administrators are at these tables; and in all jurisdictions, you most certainly should be.
This moment is calling for all of us to rise above fear. Greatly diminished funds demand, turning to data and evidence to both guide decisionmaking toward return on investment and to back up those decisions in the face of intense public scrutiny. It's creating opportunities for us to co-create these investments and therefore co-own these decisions surrounding VOCA with a diversity of stakeholders in your states.
We can view the timing as this demand for increased attention to equity and these diminished funds as overwhelming. Or we can view it as fortuitous. But either way, the change can't wait.
Survivor-led bills far beyond the VOCA fix -- survivor-led bills in states throughout the country addressing inequity in compensation and assistance have been proliferating.
Yes, there is palpable tension around the fate of limited funds but there's also a tremendous amount of new examples of engagement and bridge building across constituencies in the field, and in many places, constituencies that hadn't been a part of these conversations or this advocacy previously.
It's time to shift away from narratives around VOCA, such as ownership or the size of the pie. I know how tempting these narratives have been and I, myself, particularly in these past few years of surplus funds when states faced real challenges even being able to get these dollars out the door, that it was tempting to say this is the time to innovate.
This is the time to think outside the box. When the pie has never been bigger. But, now those narratives are coming back to haunt us when the funds have fallen in what feels like as quickly, a time frame as they rose.
But really, this isn't about the fact that this historic moment is forcing better alignment with the long standing responsibility we have to create more durable frameworks for equity and return on investment that are not subject to the changing funding and policy wins of the day.
Because truly, no matter how big or small, the pie. It doesn't absolve us from the need to make evidence-based decisions about whether services are effective and appropriately tailored to meeting survivors needs, all survivors.
So I'm going to now dive into some data findings. And again, the focus and scope of what I'll be presenting today are really focused on a few key portions of those who have so long been most harmed and least helped in victim services. And I'll be focusing on areas of violence that have historically been less likely to be funded by VOCA or the focus of the conversation, such as gun violence and other forms of community violence.
I want to again be clear that this will not be a comprehensive look and that, in particular by my focus on young men of color, I do not want to suggest that we shouldn't be devoting equal time to many other groups, including girls and women of color.
Overall, these national statistics again will only scratch the surface, so I'll be bringing together some quantitative findings and some of my work on the NCVS with some additional qualitative data and pertinent research that I think really paints a much richer picture about what's happening behind the numbers.
So diving in with my recent report, I had the privilege of collaborating with a brilliant statistician Professor Janet Lauritsen at the University of Missouri, St. Louis to use the public use files of DOJ’s own National Crime Victimization Survey data to publish an accessible hands-on publication designed to be more relevant and dynamic in speaking to the issues faced by the victim assistance field, going beyond the annual reports and statistics that you'll find with NCVS data on the BJS website.
So it's important at the outset to do something we don't spend enough time doing, which is really understanding what the data can and cannot tell us. So the NCVS has a number of unparalleled strengths.
Unlike the Uniform Crime Reports, it measures what we call the “dark figure of crime.” That means victimization is that go unreported, and are therefore not on the radar of law enforcement. Especially what we know about distrust and systems and the many barriers that victims often face in reporting, this is such an important measure to investigate. It has other considerable strengths, such as its unparalleled sample size and participation rates nationally.
But the NCVS also has some considerable limitations. So as a survey of age 12 and older, it leaves out the voices of some of our most vulnerable youth victims and overall this source does not include homicide. Also very important to emphasize as a household survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, the NCVS leaves out the voices and perspectives of many of our most marginalized victims, those who are homeless, transient, in and out of the justice system.
Many populations that not only face victimization disproportionately but often exponentially disproportional rates. And so all of that is to say some of what I've been shared what I will be sharing is really the tip of the iceberg.
So what the NCVS tells us is an important distinction between where we've come in victim services policy versus reality.
In the year since the passage of VOCA, there have been a proliferation of law and policies. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 32,000 of them in all states and territories and at the federal and local level. Guarantees, we've made to victims on paper about the rights and services that we feel that their healing and dignity require.
Yet the NCVS paints a much different picture of this reality, noting that only 9.6 percent of victims of serious violence overall report access to services. And that this number has not moved much in a year since this question was first added to the NCVS in 1993. We also know that 42 percent of victims of serious violence overall choose not to report to police. Again that is serious violence.
So we can also look at some distinctions around different types of violence and, in particular, you can see for example areas that have been of more focus to the victim services field, such as intimate partner violence and rape and sexual assault do see somewhat higher rates than some other areas like other forms of assault. But overall, the numbers are very low.
You can also look at distinctions between males and females and hopefully in the near future given advancements in the NCVS will be able to investigate these questions further around issues regarding gender identity, but for now we know that there is a key distinction between access between males and females, which is some ways not surprising, but so important to our work ahead.
The NCVS also allows us to look at service access based on whether or not the victim reported and you can see that there is an increased likelihood that a victim will connect to victim services when they report. So in theory, that's good news.
But in addition to the implications of that for the victims who choose never report the law enforcement and the tremendous gaps that that creates, we also don't spend enough time talking about what happens to the 87 percent of victims who do report their victimization and yet never report accessing services.
So I'm now going to shift to our findings on race. Now a backstory on this, this was actually the original driver of this project for me. I had seen some preliminary data from the NCVS that actually made it appear that the disparity in risk for serious violence was shrinking. Which again sounded like very good news, but it also flew in the face of everything I felt I understood about these issues and even from my own direct services work and my own qualitative work.
It made me very curious to investigate further what was happening with the data itself.
And again, I think, a success story of the type of bridge-building and multidisciplinary partnerships when we work across disciplines to, for example, get the quantitative skill set of Professor Lauritsen to help me do a more sophisticated statistical analysis than I could have done on my own revealed that with through the risk ratio trends across groups, the disparities in risk in recent years are similar to what they have been in recent decades.
Also critical to know, is that often the Bureau of Justice Statistics does not produce findings on certain populations where the estimates are smaller and therefore, seen as less reliable. However, by combining multiple years of the data, we were able to issue findings on non-Hispanic American Indians, for example, who report rates of serious violence 2.4 times greater than whites. I also want to draw attention to the fact that that last finding you see on multiple race backgrounds.
This is analysis we were only able to do in more recent years with the decision to add the question to the U.S. Census in the year 2000 finally to allow people to self-report as having a multiple race background and you can see the tremendous disparity, 310 percent greater than whites, that it revealed.
I think this is a really important lesson in the power of our data to make certain populations invisible, or to make them visible depending on how we approach it and what we collect. So again, given the fact that the NCVS doesn't cover homicide directly, it's important that we turn to public health data that does.
Black people make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, yet 51 percent of homicides. It is the leading cause of death for black males aged 15 to 34. And it's not edging out the other causes. It is combining all the other top nine causes combined, producing more death for this age group.
We also know that black males aged 15 to 34 make up only 2 percent of the population, they accounted for 37 percent of the gun homicides in 2019, a margin 20 times higher than white males in the same age bracket. And in some jurisdictions and cities that disparities, even worse, for example in Chicago, we're 78 percent of victims are black.
For every violent death, there are approximately 90 assaults that send victims to the hospital emergency room. Also, with great disparity. Within 5 years, 30 to 40 percent of these victims will return to the ER with another violent injury.
Now my recent work using the National Census of Victim Service Providers, which I'll talk about in just a little bit, revealed that less than 3 percent of victim service providers across the Nation are in hospitals. Our NCVS findings also reveal that 16 percent of victims who receive reporting access to medical care, reported access to services overall.
This violence leaves deep emotional and physical trauma, physical disabilities, and astronomically expensive care needs in its wake. The individual stories that I have heard in my qualitative work with survivors and providers haunt me to this day, including one most recent with violence interrupter in Baltimore. He shared the story of a paralyzed gun violence survivor that he works with who was denied victim compensation and has struggled to find access to any other trauma support or financial support services.
With nowhere else to go, he now lives with his 78 year old grandmother, who is unable to provide much help in physically caring for him. When he needs to use the bathroom, he often needs to flop out of his wheelchair and army crawl often not making it to his destination. This service provider recounted to me emotionally that he is concerned that this victim is trying to drink himself to death. This is just one of countless stories I could share that bring this particular statistic to life.
It's also important to note that a growing number of victims who survived nonfatal incidents today would have died a generation ago. Given this, and the extreme importance of this venue, hospitals, for responding to these needs, particularly for those most distrusting of the justice system, has the field adapted?
Another area of focus for Janet and I in our report, were to look at multiple risk factors at once for victims. Again, going beyond the single demographic categories that the Bureau of Justice Statistics often uses to release its data and look instead at risk on a continuum more reflective of our complex lived experiences and lives. And when we did that, looking at risk on a continuum from highest to lowest, black males under the age of 35 living in urban households with incomes under 25,000 have a risk for serious violent victimization nearly 15 times greater than that of females age 55 or older living in nonurban households with income 75,000 and older.
Taking this in combination with public health data that has more ability than the NCVS to get it more marginalized groups, we know that this holds, that black young men have a risk of death 15 times greater than their similarly situated young, white male, poor counterparts.
We also know that when we look at our victim assistance funding for examples, we can see that the PMT reveals that over 71 percent of assistance dollars go to serving females. The majority is white, and by a wide margin, the 29 to 59 age group, the category determined by OVC. So I'm going to shift to share some additional research findings and, in particular, I'm calling attention to a breathtaking work by criminologist Elliot Curry that's had a big impact on me and I wanted to quote directly from this because I could not say it better than he does.
“America continues to tolerate one of the most fundamental inequalities imaginable: a [radical] disparity in the very prospect of survival itself. Other wealthy countries … also have racial and ethnic differences in the risk of [violent death and injury], but none even come close to the level of excess mortality, disability, and suffering … we have come to tacitly accept.”
And those start gaps in risk of violence, do not stand alone. They are only one particularly glaring example of a much broader pattern of systemic racial inequalities in health and well-being that set the United States apart from every other advanced nation in the world.
We are at an important moment in this country, a public outcry a national shift. As was mentioned the Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities. It was followed, shortly thereafter, by the CDC, who just last month, stated unequivocally that racism is a serious public health threat directly impacting the well-being of millions of Americans.
We've also taken some important strides in embracing the concept of exposure to violence, including in the 2016 VOCA rule change. But it's important to note that not all exposure is created equal and a growing body of literature demonstrates the disservice we have done to communities of color by our oversimplified use of this concept.
So researcher Jocelyn Smith coined the phrase “unequal burden of loss” to help us more accurately capture what the disparities and exposure to violence actually mean and look like. Her work, for example, in a Baltimore neighborhood where 9 in 10 residents was black, and half the families live below the federal poverty line, found that of 40 young men in the study age 24 or below, they had collectively experienced the deaths of 267 peers, family members, and other important adults in their lives.
Nearly half were homicides. Only three of the youth had not suffered the loss of a biological family member or close peer to homicide. All the rest had suffered an average of 3 and up to 10 each. These losses are profoundly disruptive on multiple levels, leaving youth to process death, while still negotiating the constant threats to their own mortality.
Other researchers such as Bell and Jenkins have deepened our concept of futurelessness among those exposed to endemic violence in their home and community. This is happening in the research community at the same time as growing research in our field is measuring and quantifying the significance and necessity of hope amongst survivors in order for them to heal and thrive. Now futurelessness can actually be a highly adaptive strategy.
But it can also backfire when it undercuts the ability of a young person to engage in long term endeavors like schooling and work. What sense is there preparing for a future, when you have good reason to believe there may not be one.
I will cover just very, very briefly, a couple of notes around the numerous impacts to health, education, and so much more. You know, for example, persistent PTSD symptoms in high violence communities and individuals impacted resembling those in war torn countries.
For education, multiple studies now have examined the short- and long-term impacts of learning gaps that compound over time. For example, one Chicago study focusing on the impact of homicides on the performance of children in public school on two commonly used tests assessing reading and vocabulary found that they reduce children scores significantly. This didn't have to do with witnessing a homicide, necessarily, this only had to do with a homicide occurring in a close vicinity in their Census Tract in proximity to the test.
The many impacts on parenting have spoken to me in profound ways as a new parent myself. That this burden of hypervigilance is born, not just by youth, but it can dramatically alter the nature and practices of parenting. The constant effort poured into strategies of navigating violence, namely sheltering, chauffeuring, and removal. Distractions from the other facets of life disproportionately born by black families by astounding margins. One study of mothers in the high violence, low income neighborhood in Newark, found that 94 percent said they did not allow their daughters to participate in outdoor play in the neighborhood during the school year.
A recent analysis has also looked at the enduring impact of redlining the pattern of deliberate disinvestment which was legal and widely practiced from the 1930s onward. In particular, this study looked at Census Tracts placed within red zones in 1937 and found that they have more than eight times today, the amount of gun violence, those places that had been previously placed in the green.
So in other words, the same places, imagined to be quote unworthy of economic investment, due to residents’ race and ethnicity, are the places where violence is most common today. Now I think this analysis drives home a crucial point for this conversation, which is the dangerous neighborhoods, don't just come from nowhere. They are the products of intergenerational exclusion, concentrating black and brown residents in areas systematically deprived of the private and public resources that people need to thrive and to heal.
Many are familiar with the astounding growth of incarceration that has made the U.S. an outlier across the world. But in addition to start racial disparities in rates of incarceration itself, a large body of research has confirmed the multiple connections to prevalence and severity of victimization before, during, and after incarceration.
But lesser discussed and researched are the explicit and implicit barriers created to being seen and served as a victim of crime after touching the criminal or juvenile justice system. My work has been up close and personal to this reality for many years, the extent to which we criminalize rather than heal victimization and trauma and how astronomically more expensive this is. It is one form of felony disenfranchisement that we do not talk enough about.
Two recent studies have shed powerful light on the role of the media in perpetuating a hierarchy of victimization.
One finding that black victims are covered at 38 percentage points less than their victimization rates. While, white victims are covered at 17 points more than theirs. A 2020 study found that mainstream media is less likely to cover black homicide victims and less likely to portray them as complex human beings.
Now, this creates a feedback loop of dehumanization and inequity. Reinforcing a sense that violence is routine and expected in certain areas and tragic and newsworthy and others.
So a few takeaways from this data. Decades of research have confirmed these disparities. Age, poverty, and place matter a lot, but race matters exponentially more.
There's been different emphasis across studies and even some controversies in the precise mechanisms that link racial inequality specifically to the disparities in violent victimization. But there's no real dispute about the takeaway that violence flourishes in communities where people have been stripped of the social supports and opportunities that they need to heal and thrive.
So now shifting to what does this mean for the work ahead. So the good news is, we know a lot about what works and how to tailor it. We've just never done anything close to funding, prioritizing, or collaborating on it at scale.
It is time to embrace coordinated strategic planning at the state level and data driven strategies in VOCA process and substance, simultaneously capable of addressing these inequities and producing a return on investment on our limited funds.
We need a commitment moving forward to transparency and inclusion in all four of these following areas which I will cover one by one, starting with bridging the gap between research, policy and practice, and grant making.
We talked a lot about the need for diversity of perspectives when we translate our data, including interrogation of its quality, inclusivity, and applicability. This is hard, ongoing work. But what we don't talk as much about that is equally important, if not more so, is the need for diversity of perspectives at the design and decisionmaking table of what information we collect and why and how we collect it effectively.
We also talk a lot about the need for capacity-building in this field at both the SAA and the program level on grant Administration, compliance, service delivery. What we don't talk enough about is our urgent need for capacity building around data and research. This will be essential for more thorough and dynamic use and interpretation of our existing data across numerous sources moving forward.
It will also be imperative to improve the quality and consistency of this information to enhance participation in surveys and to increase strategies around language, disability access, and far more. This responsibility is not just on the SAAs and the subrecipients and programs.
There is plenty of responsibility that lies with the Federal government, including more timely release of the data that we need from agencies like the Bureau of Justice Statistics and Office for Victims of Crime and more.
Racism, sexism, classism, and so much more, these forces can skew the equity of data, just as it can programming.
In order to overcome the erasure, including some of what I talked about earlier, and to identify solutions we will need true diverse representation. And given the fact that those closest to the problems are closest to the solutions, engaging directly impacted people and communities is a must. We need to do away with the term not statistically significant. This is problematic.
We need to turn to what we have considered previously quote informal sources of data and understand that informal is not synonymous with inferior. And in fact these sources are essential, because our formal sources are incredibly inadequate. Other funding streams, such as VAWA and more have more specific guidance in the types of sources we can look to, including things like public hearings and meetings.
This is, I find helpful visual from the CDC for thinking about the best available sources of information that we can bring to problem solving, a framework that I wanted you to have as a graphic takeaway.
There is so much that we can learn and start to do with the PMT that we have not been doing previously. I will just cover a little bit of that right now and really look forward to conversations and collaboration on this moving forward. But we need to address the challenges of missing this and inconsistency of data, which is particularly problematic around understanding race and ethnicity.
The findings that we have already at our fingertips are telling and much more analysis is needed. So for example, we learned with hate crimes, racially motivated was the most common type reported and I don't think we're talking enough about the fact that there was a 64 percent increase in this motivation in FY 18.
Trafficking, as another example, there is a heightened over representation of black trafficking victims than in the victims overall served according to the PMT data.
We also need to throw our support and, where possible, our dollars behind additional research. I know the concept of supporting research in VOCA is a complicated one.
I want to remind everyone of a resource that I collaborated on with the Center for Victim Research that we can share electronically. I will make sure that you all have that that helps navigate the using VOCA funds for reach research related activities. But overall, it's essential that building capacity around safety and healing will require investing in what works.
It also requires a commitment to inclusivity and innovation through investing in new research of strategies informed and driven by community needs.
An experience that has not been as much of a focus of the academic community in the past, we need to listen to communities.
And most importantly, we need to partner with them directly in this work. Participatory research with community-based organizations, that so often are too busy providing direct services with underfunded budgets and don't have the bandwidth to collect data or participate in research, that if we change that we not only have a better understanding of where our dollars have the most impact, but we grow the capacity of these programs to tell their own story.
So I won't be spending much time on this today, but I'm really looking forward moving forward to doing work with you all around the findings of the BJS Victim Services Statistical Research Program.
I'm hoping that that definitely includes a deep dive at the upcoming VOCA conference in August, we have been building from the ground up the first ever national statistical data infrastructure on the victim services field, including through the first ever Census and Survey of Victim Service Providers that will greatly expand, we hope, our understanding of these issues.
The National Census of Victim Service Providers data, our recently released publication, is available. And this data is there for you to put to work in your states. The public use files have been released, and I do not think are getting enough activity.
And there's a lot that we can understand, particularly because we have taken intentionally an inclusive approach, looking at providers across the country, notwithstanding their source of funding.
So hopefully this research program will give administrators the ability to compare the VOCA-funded providers in their state with what we know about the landscape of victim services more broadly in your jurisdiction.
We have our next publication forthcoming, hopefully by this summer, from the Bureau of Justice Statistics using the more detailed NSVSP survey data. The public use files will be released when that publication releases also.
There's so much that we can learn already, including looking just at this basic breakdown of providers Nationwide, and how they are distributed. Again having a counterpoint to how we are funding programs through VOCA, compared to programs that are otherwise operating in jurisdictions.
Now I'm going to shift to a few strategies for equity in grant making, starting with the fact that culture eats policy for breakfast. Now changing policy is hard enough, but changing culture, that requires a relentless, ongoing commitment to transparency, inclusion, and empathy in both substance. We'll be talking a lot today about efforts to focus on buy in for programs, enhancing understanding of the VOCA role, and leveraging strategies that we know work in partnership across funding streams.
But also a commitment to these things in process, the importance of diverse feedback and participation from the field before, during, and after awards are made.
So the VOCA rule, given the fact that these changes were permissive and not mandatory in many cases, I believe we are leaving so many opportunities for meaningful change still on the table.
That I've been doing presentations throughout the country with community-based organizations and other stakeholders in your state's trying to help people embrace and understand the VOCA rule as a tool for change. And in so many places, even with some of the key constituents around the table, that conversation starts with what is VOCA 101.
There's so much more outreach, engagement, and education. We can do around truly implementing the rule and realizing its vision to fund what we know works. So, for example, hospital-based violence intervention programs. I'm currently partnering with the Health Alliance for Violence Intervention to produce a toolkit for administrators to help apply this, including navigating allowability and other key issues of the rule.
Trauma recovery centers, violence interruption, restorative justice, transitional housing, culturally-appropriate mental health services, enhanced relocation access, the list goes on and I look forward to continuing these conversations.
Also addressing the false dichotomy between victims and those who commit harm. I think one of the biggest see changes of all of that rule was removing the decades long prohibition on using both dollars to serve victims who were incarcerated. And in addition to its possibility for programs, I think this is a possibility for narrative change and bridge building moving forward. And then lastly, as has been mentioned today, and speaking of eradicating fear, we need to modernize the concept of prevention to align with the research. And I'm so excited to be working with obesity on that guidance.
Also so key to this conversation, is the importance of expanding and maintaining diverse stakeholder relationships, including proactive efforts toward inclusivity of orgs that are not currently, or have ever, been funded by VOCA. And notice I didn't say new organizations. Many of these programs and organizations have been around doing this work in trenches, filling gaps in our communities for decades, they have just never been funded for a long list of reasons by VOCA in the past. And having a more inclusive conversation and collaboration with these voices is essential.
The importance of feedback relationship building trust building with grassroots organizations before RFPs are created.
And using the importance of these meaningful relationships to get ahead of narratives surrounding funding cuts and the difficult decisions, again, because these decisions should be co-created with community.
On the topic of needs assessments, I want to stress the fact that we can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. We can't wait for the perfect time frame, the perfect grant to do this work. These efforts must be ongoing and they must be collaborative at the state level.
We have to think differently and far more specifically about the underserved category in VOCA which for too long, has been either neglected and/or treated certain marginalized and vulnerable populations of victims that have been least likely to access victim services and compensation as monolithic groups. They are not, and they need to be at the table in this process moving forward. Again the inclusion of buy and for organizations and I want to call out the distinction between buy and for organizations that are victim service providers specifically and those that may be doing more broad services or focused in other areas, yet are experts on specific populations and issues of focus.
I'm going to close with covering some points about equity in grant making. Again, the commitment to transparency, inclusion, and opportunities for dialogues about what having VOCA grants requires upfront. This is critical.
Especially given what we've learned in recent years with the increases of organizations getting VOCA funds that in very sad ways had things to report back, like it was more hassle than it was worth because there were an unrealistic set of expectations that they were not poised to manage along the way. We need maximum flexibility and cultural humility, including around how victim service providers demonstrate their track record of success.
We need to take a hard look at our own offices and think about representation from the communities that we're trying to serve and the gaps that we are trying to fill.
Capacity-building must happen. And we've been talking a lot about that at both the subrecipient and program level and the SAA level. But what we also need to be doing simultaneous to that capacity-building, is taking a hard look at evaluating the needed process adjustments on our end.
Removal of barriers, use of discretion designed to meet programs where they actually are rather than doing a brand of capacity-building that is trying to prepare all victim service providers to meet the same set of requirements or unrealistic expectations that were never designed for some providers and service types.
We also think about the role of technology and how some desperately needed enhancements in some states has a disproportionate effect on communities of color and grassroots organizations serving them. For example, the way that paper files get lost. And that organizations that are so underwater, and having that back and forth around their grant management can complicate things.
We need to talk about the importance of doing this work and having these relationships in person. I know that is very complicated right now with the pandemic, but thankfully it's not going to be that way forever and we need to embrace the need to get out of our offices and into our communities, much more.
I'm not going to go in detail or go much at all further into the topic of victim compensation, which is critical. This is in the interest of time and in the interest of what's on the agenda moving forward. That will be covered by the SVRD team, but I didn't want to leave my portion without underscoring how vital this topic is and how much work we have to do, particularly around putting the data to work.
I also think we need to be doing this in a very collaborative unsiloed way from victim assistance. I encounter and have encountered for years now, these very widespread misconceptions in the field about differences VOCA victim compensation and victim services that I think have a profound connection to the solutions for addressing inequity moving forward and I look forward to collaborating on that.
I also, before closing, want to make a point about collaboration on the OVC side. And I think the opportunities moving forward to unsilo the work in the formula division and discretionary sides of the house. That even though the lion's share of the dollars 90 percent or more are going through formula programs, there is game changing, innovative work that I think already has and will continue to influence the field, particularly be in throwing our support behind research tested strategies, the work of the National Resource Center, the Center for Victim Research, our Collective Healing Initiative Building Trust Between Law Enforcement and Communities they Serve, Linking Systems of Care. The list goes on. And if you're not familiar with that TA, I want you and your programs to be familiar.
In closing, I just want to emphasize the point that equity is a process, not a destination.
And thankfully, for our purposes right now it is inextricably linked to also advancing the return on investment, collaboration, and transparency that this moment of austerity and recovery in VOCA require.
One of the great obstacles to advancing equity in data and grant management alike is unwillingness to take small, immediate actions. But that's exactly how we're going to get there and truly the alternative is too expensive.
It is time for more urgent truth telling about the enduring legacy and presence of white supremacy in this country, including in the victim assistance field. As James Baldwin told us, “not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed, until it is faced.”
Thank you again. I'm honored to be with you today for this conversation and really looking forward to collaborating on this, and much more. Moving forward, please feel free to reach out to me anytime.
Victoria Shelton: Heather, this is Victoria. Thank you for that really valuable information on the role of research and the great resources that you've provided and I just want to let everybody know that I know Heather is open to follow-up questions by email. So certainly, feel free to follow up with Heather.
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