By Michelle Cassell
CHAPEL HILL – Depleted federal funds will cause significant staff layoffs and program dissolutions at the Orange County Rape Crisis Center (OCRCC) in Chapel Hill, according to Anna Lynch, Board Member of Orange County Rape Crisis Center.
“Presently, our local rape crisis center is facing a significant budgetary shortfall because the federal funding through the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) has decreased over the past three years and continues to fall,” said Lynch. The lack of funds will result in laying off over half the staff and scaling down to minimal case management and support groups. Hospital and courtroom accompaniment could be nonexistent or delegated to a long waiting list.
Lynch said most of their funding has come from VOCA, now they are forced to contact past donors and hold local fundraisers to stay operational. “The timing of this could not be worse,” she said. They have seen considerable increases in service demand over the past two years –- both in direct care and prevention services.
Executive Director of Orange County Rape Crisis Center, Rachel Valentine said, “In Orange County alone, thousands of survivors will continue to suffer in silence and stigma and miss out on the possibility of healing, hope, and wholeness that can come from confronting shame and trauma.
Thousands of survivors will face the economic hardship of lifelong earning loss without explanation or recourse. Hundreds will face financial crises, job loss, homelessness, unresolved medical complications, and increased lethality at the hands of their abusers. Entire generations of children will grow up with less protection against sexual abuse than their parents had.”
In addition to coping with diminshed federal funds, the state of North Carolina has dedicated the bulk of the VOCA funds to rural and poorer areas this year. “The perception is that Chapel Hill/Carrboro area is wealthy and can look to the community for support,” said Lynch.
The crisis center provides free services to victims of sexual assault, such as dispatching support workers to the hospital. This service is not limited to citizens of Orange County, but UNC students reporting sexual assaults through the Clery Act also go through the Orange County Rape Crisis Center.
What happened to the funds?
All of the money comes from fines paid by white-collar criminals prosecuted by the Department of Justice. When a conviction involves restitution, it goes into the Crime Victims Fund (CVF). Crime Victim’s Fund (CVF) money comes from several sources:
• Criminal fines from individuals and corporations convicted of federal crimes, with exceptions for funds related to certain environmental, railroad, unemployment insurance, and postal service violations.
• Monetary penalties from federal deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements.
• Forfeited appearance bonds from people convicted of federal crimes.
• Special forfeitures of collateral profits from crime.
• Special assessments for individuals and corporations convicted of federal crimes.
• Gifts, donations, and bequests by private parties.
The North Carolina Governor’s Crime Commission then disperses its fund portion to direct service organizations such as domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers and child abuse treatment programs.
“The Governor’s Crime Commission says it’s in danger of drying up or being super low funded by the end of fiscal year 2024,” said Lynch.
Since 2019, the VOCA funds released annually have declined because of shrinking deposits and subsequent declines in the CVF balance. They say the “declines are due to prosecutorial strategies that have changed over the last decade and are not a partisan issue.”
Whatever the cause, the facts remain that the Orange County Rape Crisis Center will be deeply affected by the end 2023. Lynn recounted that in the past three to four years, they have lost an estimated $400,00-800,000 in funding. “As things have opened up since the pandemic our request for services has gone up 80%,” said Lynch.
Statistics provided by Lynch: In fiscal year 22-23, OCRCC served 1268 residents who reported abuse or assault. These services included:
- case management
- hospital accompaniment for sexual assault examination kits
- individual therapy and support groups
- hotel rooms when necessary to get away from abuser
- 24 hour hotline for reporting sexual assault
- courtroom and police interview accompaniment when survivor chooses to report
“Additionally, we served over 14,000 students in CH/Carrboro schools in sexual violence prevention education,” Lynch said.
Services that will be reduced or go away:
- 60% decrease in our free therapy program for survivors; this will lead to long waiting lists
- cuts to the SafeTouch program – we are determining which grade levels will be eliminated
- long term advocacy
- support groups
- decrease in services to the Latino/a community
The Safe Touch Program that OCRCC has instituted in the entire Chapel Hill/Carrboro school system will be severely affected. The Safe Touch program goes into k-8th grades to teach that nobody has a right to touch your body unless you give them permission.
“It is an ironic thing, we are the only school system in the state that has a program like Safe Touch .… other school systems have been wanting this curriculum and we packaged it. We are selling it and licensing and training for other schools systems and now we will have to cut our services,” Lynch said.
Without rape crisis centers, survivors will have no advocates or resources to turn to. “This contributes to long-term mental health issues and even more lack of prosecution,” Lynch said.
Long-term solutions for increased funding need to be made by United States Congressional leaders such as Valerie Foushee from North Carolina’s District 4, who represents OCRCC’s district. Ultimately, the congressional representatives and the State Attorney General Josh Stein can influence the Department of Justice.
Immediate funds are needed from the community to sustain the limited assistance the OCRCC can offer. This is a link to the OCRCC donations page.
This article was updated on August 18, 2023 to reflect more detail into the sources of funding for the Crime Victim’s Fund.
Michelle Cassell is a seasoned reporter who has covered everything from crime to hurricanes and local politics to human interest over the course of 35 years. As managing editor, she hopes to encourage writers of a wide range of backgrounds and interests in TLR’s coverage of Southern Orange County news.