Opinion: It’s Time for California to Invest in Support for Violence Survivors

Photo by AnnaStills/iStock

In 2022, an undocumented LGBTQ+ person arrived at the Los Angeles LGBT Center in Hollywood looking for help. He had fled his home country to escape a gang that was persecuting him because of his sexual orientation. Law enforcement in his home country refused to protect him. And after a difficult journey to the U.S., he experienced severe sexual violence in Los Angeles. He arrived at the Center after experiencing these severely traumatizing events, looking for support.

Thanks to federal funding from the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), we were able to help him. He felt safe coming to us, and felt supported and respected by his advocate here at the Center. The Center provided him with crisis intervention, safety planning, case management and therapeutic services, as well as trauma-informed, LGBTQ-competent, legal representation for his U Visa case. This visa allows undocumented victims of serious crimes to remain in the country. Thanks to this visa, the client was able to remain in the United States,  access support and safety, and begin to heal from the trauma that he had experienced.

This is just one of many cases we have worked on in the last year at the Los Angeles LGBT Center. Thanks to funding from the federal Victims of Crime Act, we are able to provide LGBTQ+ survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and anti-LGBTQ+ hate violence with free, expert legal advocacy, full-scope legal representation, support with restraining orders, divorce and custody cases, and immigration help. Without these services, many of our clients couldn’t afford legal support. Even if they could, they would struggle to find attorneys who know how to work with the LGBTQ+ community and provide trauma-informed representation and legal advice. 

Victims of Crime Act funding is imperative to our work. It’s the largest funding source for victims’ services throughout California and the country. But it’s in jeopardy. 

The funding is financed from federal fines and fees paid by people convicted in federal cases, including white collar settlements, and not from taxpayer dollars. Because of problems with these funding sources, the VOCA fund is experiencing a shortfall and the amount released from the fund to the states is projected to fall by between $600 and $700 million next fiscal year relative to fiscal year 2023-24.  As a result, California expects funds available for victims’ services programs to decline by as much as $132 million starting in July.  If no action is taken on the part of the state to allocate additional funds, grants to victim service providers will face a devastating 30 percent cut.

VOCA-funded organizations provide counseling, housing services, crisis response, legal, mental health and other support for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, child abuse and human trafficking. It cannot be overstated how catastrophic these cuts will be to survivors in our state. These cuts could mean that domestic violence shelters have to close, that survivors won’t get emergency housing, that sexual assault crisis centers will reduce hours and staffing, that survivors won’t get trauma-informed and culturally competent care, and that child abuse victims won’t get the essential services they need to heal. 

These funds are crucial for helping some of the most vulnerable Californians. Some VOCA funds go to children’s advocacy centers, which conduct trauma-informed child abuse investigations and interventions across the state. After a family member sexually assaulted her daughter, one mother visited a children’s advocacy center in Alameda County. She had this to say about her visit: 

“I wanted to let you know what a tremendously positive experience my daughter and I had,” she wrote to the center. “This has been an extremely tough chapter in our family’s life, and we felt the support and expertise as soon as we crossed the threshold. You all provided warmth and resources, emanated calm and positivity — just what we needed to get through this triggering experience.” 

We cannot let survivors of violence, like this mother and daughter, fall through the cracks in our social support systems. California must find a way to replace the loss of Victims of Crime Act funds. 

It is California’s time to step up and sustain essential victims’ services programs. The state must allocate its own funding to supplement the deficit of federal dollars. At a time when demand for these services is higher than ever and programs are already strained trying to meet that demand, it is the state’s responsibility to ensure that the most vulnerable Californians are supported through the most difficult and traumatic moments of their lives. 

Holly Fleming is program director for Children’s Advocacy Centers of California, an organization dedicated to helping local communities respond to allegations of child abuse.   

Amanda Gould is the senior program manager of the National LGBTQ Institute on Intimate Partner Violence at the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

X Close

Subscribe to Our Mailing List