Good morning, everyone. I am so happy to be here!
I want to thank Renee Williams and Iva Rody for inviting me to provide welcome remarks for the NCVC [National Center for Victims of Crime] National Training Institute.
It’s always risky to provide any context that will give a clue to how old one is, but my career in criminal justice started at the same time as NCVC, then known as the Sunny Von Bulow National Victim Advocacy Center.
Ala Isham and Alexander Auersperg established the National Center after their mother’s victimization and the traumatic experience they had with the criminal justice system. Along with longtime leading advocates like Roberta Roper, they were among the first to understand that justice for crime victims means giving them a voice in the criminal justice system.
This was 1985 and I was fresh out of grad school right here in Boston at Northeastern University, getting ready to start a new job answering the 800 number at the National Criminal Justice Reference Service.
Is there anyone here who used to call that 800 number to ask a question about criminal justice research, data, or programs?
VOCA [Victims of Crime Act] had just passed in 1984, creating the Crime Victims Fund, a non-taxpayer fund created specifically to fund services for crime victims. But crime victims were still more of an afterthought.
Here we are, nearly 40 years later. We have a federal crime victims bill of rights. Fifty states, Washington, D.C., and most territories have passed bills to support victims’ rights, and the Federal office created by VOCA, OVC, has provided billions dollars for millions and millions of Americans impacted by crime.
NCVC has been right there with us the whole time.
They created the VictimConnect Hotline, which OVC has supported since its inception in 2015. They provided training and technical assistance on multidisciplinary responses to complex homicide cases and technical assistance to OVC’s State Victim Assistance Academies. For many years, they have supported National Crime Victims' Rights Week through the development of the Resource Guide, logo, and theme materials.
We are proud of the work we have done together to support survivors.
That’s why I am delighted to announce that under the FY23 Building Capacity of National Crisis Hotlines solicitation, OVC will continue its support to the National Center for Victims of Crime’s VictimConnect Hotline with a $2 million award.
With this new award, NCVC will build upon its current VictimConnect Hotline by expanding hours of availability to 24/7 and access to services by providing crisis intervention support using trauma-informed, culturally, and linguistically appropriate, survivor-centered approaches that protect the safety and confidentiality of victims and survivors.
And that’s not all. OVC will award $2 million to NCVC to serve as a pass-through entity and training and technical assistance provider for programs using or interested in establishing trauma-informed peer-to-peer support programs.
NCVC will undertake the development of a competitive funding opportunity to provide subawards to 10 community sites doing peer-to-peer work. As the TTA [training and technical assistance] provider, NCVC will assist and support communities across the country in establishing or expanding programs to support crime survivors. To aid in capacity building, the TTA provided will support subgrantees on administrative and programmatic aspects of their peer led programs. Programs may be in the form of independent and peer-run programs, mutual support groups, mentoring programs, or peer-to-peer support within community-based organizations.
Increasing access to peer-to-peer support is one of my highest priorities. The concept of peer support is based on the belief that people who have faced, endured, and overcome adversity can offer useful support, encouragement, hope, and mentorship to others facing similar situations. There are many models for peer support, but the one defining characteristic is that they are run by and for the people they serve. This grant will place a strong emphasis on ensuring that peer support is culturally-specific so that all survivors can experience being authentically heard and understood.
Congratulations, NCVC, on these new awards. We are looking forward to continuing our long-standing partnership with you.
If you’ve heard me speak before you know that my priorities as Director are access, options, and information. In the coming weeks, you will hear about OVC grant awards that will address these priorities in particular.
For example, we’ll be funding state-run hate crime reporting hotlines and hospital-based victim services where advocates can meet with victims of violent crime and their families and connect them with services and support.
We will be funding grants to support multidisciplinary teams to better identify and respond to elder abuse, human trafficking, and children, youth, and families who are impacted by the Nation’s substance use and overdose crisis.
We intend to fund resource centers that will expand access for underheard and underrepresented communities and will lift up the use of research in developing victim-related programs and policy.
And we will fund grants to remove barriers to services like our PAWS program which helps domestic violence shelters to become pet-friendly so that survivors of domestic violence have the option to bring their pets with them when they make that decision to leave. Too often, domestic violence victims will choose to stay in an abusive situation, rather than leave a pet behind. I just finished taping a new podcast on our PAWS program featuring Nancy Blaney from the Animal Welfare Institute. Stay tuned for information about its release.
And there is much, much more that you will be hearing about over the next month or two.
One of our largest undertakings to date is our effort to update the VOCA Victim Compensation Guidelines to ensure access and equity to all victims of crime. We know that many communities are unaware of these benefits or denied benefits for various reasons, including contributory conduct and past criminal history.
We have gone through an extensive process for conducting the outreach, research, and stakeholder engagement necessary to put forward recommendations for the changes that are needed.
We’ve heard from survivors, direct service providers, state administrators, national advocacy organizations, and federal and tribal leaders. And our next step is to publish the recommended updates in the Federal Register through a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. Once the Notice is published, there’ll be an open comment period to gather additional input. Our goal is to have this done by the end of 2024.
We recently received our monthly update on the Crime Victims Fund, so I wanted to share that update with you and provide some background for any new faces in the audience.
The CVF [Crime Victims Fund] is the major source of funding through which OVC supports programs and initiatives, including the Tribal Victim Services Set-Aside and other programs serving Tribal communities; discretionary funds administered through the competitive grant programs; and, of course, formula funding to state victim assistance and compensation programs.
The CVF is unique in that it’s not funded by taxpayer dollars. Fines from individuals and corporations convicted of federal crimes are deposited into the fund through the efforts of the U.S. Attorney’s Offices and the litigating components of DOJ.
Over the last several years the CVF balance has been decreasing at a concerning rate. To address the solvency issues, in 2021, the VOCA Fix was signed into law, which redirects monetary penalties from Federal deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements from the General Treasury to the CVF.
VOCA Fix dollars began coming into the CVF in September 2021.
Since enactment, nearly $1 billion has been deposited into the Crime Victims Fund through July 2023 from non-prosecution agreement and deferred prosecutions – a direct result of the VOCA Fix and the Department’s efforts to increase deposits into the Crime Victims Fund. But the VOCA Fix is not going to solve the problem.
As of July 31st, the CVF balance was $2.37 billion dollars. This doesn’t take into consideration the programs we still have left to fund this year. When you remove those commitments, the balance of the fund is about $680 million.
In FY 2024, the President’s budget requests an obligation cap of $1.2 billion dollars on the CVF. The proposed reduction in FY 2024 seeks to align spending with estimated projections for revenue to protect the balance of the fund over the long term so that it can continue to serve victims in the years ahead.
Deposits are hard to predict as they are so inconsistent from month-to-month, but we’re estimating that the balance of the CVF at the start of ‘24 will be approximately $1.21 billion. So, we should have enough money to meet the cap.
As always, we’ll keep you updated on the status of the CVF each month on our website and in my monthly briefing to the field, the second Thursday of every month. The next briefing will be on September 14 at 3:00 p.m. [eastern time].
I want to make sure you all heard the latest news regarding the 2024 National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.
First, NCVRW [National Crime Victims’ Rights Week] 2024 will be observed April 21–27, the last full week in April. After taking a year off to revitalize the program, we will once again hold our National Crime Victims’ Rights Week award program, along with the National Candlelight Vigil. These events will be held on the National Mall with the Nation’s Capitol as the backdrop.
These events are open to the public and we encourage all of you to come to Washington, D.C. to attend and pay tribute to crime survivors and the people who care for them.
Last year’s theme was Survivor Voices: Elevate, Engage, Effect Change.
This year we are trying something a little different by putting our theme in the form of a question, which will be posed to providers and the American public alike:
How would you help?
Options, services, and hope for crime survivors.
This theme recognizes that each one of us has a role in supporting crime survivors. Most victims of crime do not report the crime to the police. Many never tell anyone at all. When someone chooses not to talk about a crime that happened to them, it’s even less likely they will ever find out about the services that are available that can help them. And you know that when trauma goes unaddressed, it can cause deep emotional and physical damage that can last a lifetime.
So, this theme asks all of us: Are you prepared if a friend, a colleague, a neighbor, a roommate, or a family member confides in you about a crime they experienced?
Are you aware of the resources available in your community, your state, and across the country that provide the emotional, the financial, the spiritual, and the medical assistance to those who have been harmed by crime?
How would YOU help?
I hope that this theme resonates with you as much as it does with us at OVC.
I want to close remarks the way I began, by sharing a few thoughts on the importance of survivor voices in the work that we do.
This past April we held a Survivor Voices Symposium as part of our NCVRW commemoration. We brought a group of survivor leaders from across the country to give their views on criminal justice reform.
We did this because crime survivors are rarely included in policy conversations about issues such as alternatives to the criminal justice system, co-responder models, ending cash bail, reducing prison sentences, or implementing restorative approaches. That doesn’t make a lot of sense.
People with lived experience add depth and authenticity to these discussions.
Dr. Judith Herman, author of “Truth and Repair: How Trauma Survivors Envision Justice” writes that survivors of violence “know in their bones the truths that many others would prefer not to know.”
Survivors and service providers should be invited to the table even if those discussions are hard to have. Even if you think you already know what their opinion might be. Because, spoiler alert, you don’t.
Their views, based on their lived experience, need to be heard and considered to avoid the possibility of additional harm being done. Reform efforts won’t be effective if survivors don’t feel safe.
It is not a coincidence that so many successful community organizations are led or founded by a crime survivor whose lived experience brought them to that place.
These survivors can often see with clarity what a justice system needs to be more responsive to crime victims.
It’s on us to create an environment where survivors have the confidence that they will be heard, believed, and supported.
If we can do that, then we have a much better shot at ensuring our criminal justice reform policies are credible and meaningful, and do not cause unwanted harm.
Finally, I want to take a moment to thank each of you for the work you do, the hours you spend working, the moments you worry that you aren’t working hard enough; the time you spend away from your family; and the bonds you create with your peers because of the hours, the worry, and the work.
While it’s true that time is a finite resource, there is no more important resource than you. We need you to take care of yourselves and take care of each other.
Thank you for the honor of speaking with you today. Take good care and enjoy the National Training Institute.