For many survivors, local programs are the often first line of support they reach out to. Rape crisis center advocates support every step of the way in a survivor’s healing journey from crisis counseling, navigating their options and rights, to accessing resources to meet their basic needs. These programs are crucial to the health and well-being of survivors and communities, and yet they are in dire need of funding.
Rape crisis centers are facing unprecedented need
Even before the current COVID-19 crisis, rape crisis centers have faced an uphill battle to support survivors with limited funding. According to a 2019 survey of rape crisis centers by the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, one third of programs experienced a decrease in funds in the past year, while 84% of programs saw an increase in demand for services.
Programs need funding to meet survivor needs like transportation, housing, legal and medical services, and more. The historic lack of funding has left programs short-staffed, resulting in waiting lists and, in the worst cases, unable to serve survivors. Again, before this global crisis began, nearly half of all rape crisis centers lacked a therapist on staff.
Now, with shutdowns and economic instability due to the COVID-19 pandemic, programs are facing greater needs than ever before. Programs that rely on fundraising events during Sexual Assault Awareness Month have had to cancel their events, cutting off that source of funding as well.
“We entered the month of March in the strongest financial position in the history of our organization,” said a program director in Ohio. “Now, with the anticipated VOCA cuts at the end of this year, combined with the cancellation of our signature fundraising event, and our philanthropic partners diverting donations to COVID-19 emergency response, our financial well-being is in jeopardy.”
The impact of COVID-19 on the ongoing struggle to serve survivors
89% of programs need emergency stimulus funding to respond to meet the needs of survivors for support and emergency assistance.
Meeting survivors’ needs has suddenly become much more difficult, and local programs are struggling to adapt without adequate funding. Since the onset of COVID-19, forty percent of programs have seen an increased demand for services – both in terms of new requests and more dire and complicated requests from current clients.
Not only are programs struggling to keep up with an increased demand for services, but in most communities, advocates need to overcome the digital divide to continue support survivors. One of the biggest needs for programs during this time is lacking the basic technology and equipment needed to provide virtual services. This includes things like tablets, laptops, and cell phones – not to mention telehealth platforms or internet services.
“There is a significant cost to operating remotely,” said an advocate from Tennessee. “The biggest challenge our organization has faced is making the transition to remote work with all the necessary equipment and privacy protections.” An advocate in Kansas echoed this concern, saying, “Not all staff have laptops available to work with survivors remotely. Survivors need victim services now, more than ever, in this scary time.”
Programs also need funds to meet emergency needs for survivors – things like food, rent, and pre-paid cell phones. In order to help survivors meet their most basic needs, programs also need ways to transport and deliver these items.
“When the response is remote and people are experiencing a pandemic, it makes the work so much more difficult because we are responding to so many additional needs in a way we are all learning about,” said an advocate in Massachusetts. “We are building the plane as we’re flying it.”
There is also a heightened concern for vulnerable populations, such as immigrant survivors, those experiencing homelessness, and communities of color.
“Outreach services to vulnerable populations are extremely limited at this time,” said an Illinois advocate. All survivors should be able to seek help and medical care without fear, and that includes immigrant survivors.
How you can help
The COVID-19 pandemic has created uncertainty and instability throughout the country, disproportionately impacting those who are already more vulnerable. But there is a way to help rape crisis centers ease the burden of this crisis on survivors.
The next federal stimulus package in response to COVID-19 can be the answer local programs are looking for. Call your representative and tell them you want them to vote for:
– Providing $100 million in emergency Sexual Assault Services Funding (SASP) in the Office on Violence Against Women, Department of Justice. This funding will help rape crisis centers transition to providing services virtually.
– Waiving the match requirement on the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) Crime Victims Fund at the Department of Justice and enact policies to increase deposits to the fund.
– Ensuring immigrant survivors can seek support and emergency assistance.
Together, we can support the programs that have provided support, hope, and healing to so many.