In April, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the Orange County Rape Crisis Center (OCRCC) launched its Policy Initiative. The OCRCC hosted a meeting with the office of Senator Thom Tillis to advocate for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), increased funding for the Rape Prevention and Education (RPE) program, and to lift the cap on the Victims of Crimes Act (VOCA) Fund. In June, the OCRCC’s Policy Fellow, Abby Cooper, continued this legislative work by meeting with the offices of Senator Richard Burr and Representative David Price in Washington D.C. The OCRCC relies on federal funding through VAWA, VOCA, and RPE to serve survivors of sexual violence and provide violence prevention programming to the community. Support from our elected policymakers is crucial to show survivors that we see them, believe them, and want to support them throughout their healing process.
This past year, the OCRCC served 658 survivors, a number that has significantly increased over the past 10 years. Furthermore, the OCRCC has expanded the types of services offered to clients to go beyond one-time crisis intervention. A growing staff now provides therapy, support groups, legal and medical advocacy, and case management services in both English and Spanish. Not only is the OCRCC serving more clients, but clients are returning for support and assistance at higher rates than in previous years; the average client receives OCRCC services on over five different occasions. At a time when the OCRCC and other rape crisis centers across North Carolina and the country are experiencing increased demand for services, support from the federal government is critical. Yet, Congress has not yet reauthorized the expired VAWA. In order to provide the highest standard of care to all clients who seek OCRCC services or educational programming, VAWA must be reauthorized, appropriations for RPE must increase, and the spending cap on VOCA must be lifted.
VAWA was authorized in 1994 as the first federal legislation to address sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking (the four crimes). VAWA provides critical legal protections, authorizes multiple grant programs to transform law enforcement and the legal system’s response to the four crimes, and funds organizations that provide direct services to survivors of the four crimes. The authorization of VAWA brought sexual violence into the public conversation and facilitated a shift in societal norms around issues of sexual violence. Twenty-five years later, VAWA has been reauthorized three times to integrate updated research and best practices related to sexual violence prevention and intervention. VAWA has drastically improved the criminal justice system’s response to sexual violence and expanded the capacity of direct service providers to support a greater number of survivors.
However, VAWA’s work is not complete – sexual violence still permeates our society and is far too common. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) estimates that someone in the United States is sexually assaulted every 92 seconds. Yet, only five out of every 1,000 perpetrators ends up behind bars. VAWA, with comprehensive updates, is necessary to increase perpetrator accountability, protect vulnerable populations, and support survivors of the four crimes.
While VAWA has expired, grant programs will remain funded for the remainder of the fiscal year. H.R. 1585, or the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019, passed in the House on April 4 (NC District 4 Congressman David Price voted YES), but has not yet been introduced in the Senate. The 2019 reauthorization bill is based on extensive research and outreach to direct service providers, experts in the field, survivors, and other stakeholders, and contains new provisions which are crucial to address gaps in coverage and expand funding for services and primary prevention.
VAWA must be reauthorized in order to ensure survivors can access necessary care in a timely manner. Rolling back protections is not acceptable, and neither is maintaining the status quo; the new provisions in H.R. 1585 are essential to protect all survivors of sexual violence and increase the capacity of rape crisis centers and other direct service providers to serve survivors. The #MeToo movement encouraged more survivors to speak out about their experiences and seek help, which has been reflected by the increased demand for OCRCC services. Every survivor who comes to the OCRCC for support has a unique story and requires customized care. VAWA makes it possible for OCRCC staff to respond to each client and offer the type of care survivors need to heal.
You can help advocate for the reauthorization of VAWA too! Call the offices of Senator Burr and Senator Tillis and tell them why you support the reauthorization of VAWA. You can also send letters or tweet. Contact information and sample scripts/tweets are below:
Senator Richard Burr @SenatorBurr
Winston-Salem, NC Office: 2000 West First Street Suite 508, Winston-Salem, NC 27104
Washington, DC Office: 217 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510
Senator Thom Tillis @SenThomTillis
Raleigh, NC Office: 310 New Bern Ave, Suite 122, Raleigh, NC 27601
Washington, DC Office: 113 Dirksen Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
*Sample call script:
My name is [your name] and I am calling from [your location and, if you are affiliated with a domestic violence or sexual assault program, the name of your program]. I urge [Senator Burr/Tillis, depending on which office you called] to support the bipartisan H.R. 1585, the Violence Against Women Act of 2019. The Violence Against Women Act is one of the pillars of the federal response to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking. [Tell your Senator why VAWA has been important to your community. If you are from Orange County, cite the OCRCC’s work in the community. Otherwise, cite a local domestic violence or rape crisis center’s work, or, if you have a story you feel comfortable sharing, share your experience]. Every time VAWA has been reauthorized, it has been strengthened based on our increased understanding of gender-based violence. The Me Too era, when survivors are demanding change and stronger protections, is not the time to roll back essential protections or even to maintain the status quo. H.R. 1585 maintains protections for all victims, makes vital investments in sexual assault prevention, ensures sexual predators who prey on Native women are held accountable, protects victims of domestic violence from intimate partner homicide, and increases victims’ access to safe housing and economic stability.
- The bipartisan VAWA (#HR1585), introduced by @RepKarenBass & @RepBrianFitz, includes key enhancements for all survivors of domestic and sexual violence. @Senhandle can I count on you to help get this bill across the finish line?! #VAWA19 #VAWA4ALL
- The Violence Against Women Act (#HR1585) is a bipartisan bill. @Senatorhandle can I count on you to co-sponsor this #VAWA4ALL survivors? #VAWA19
- The Violence Against Women Act (#HR1585) is a critical bill that enhances protections for survivors of sexual and domestic violence. @Senatorhandle can I could on you to support this bill?
- The Orange County Rape Crisis Center supports the reauthorization of #VAWA. @Senatorhandle, will you stand up for survivors of sexual violence too?
*Adapted from the National Task Force to End Sexual & Domestic Violence
Abby Cooper is OCRCC’s Policy Fellow doing important work on the ground.