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The California State Capitol. (iStockphoto)
The California State Capitol. (iStockphoto)

Even in an era of political division, one of the most basic commitments we all share is to support survivors of crime and their families. But unless Governor ɫ̳om and the state legislature take immediate action, we will fail this obligation, as funding for victim services will be slashed across California. 

The federal Victims of Crime Act Fund (VOCA) is at the center of California’s response to supporting victims of crime, but as the fund’s balance has declined precipitously and Congress has reduced the amount released, the state’s allocation has been cut by for the coming fiscal year. Local governments, law enforcement, and service providers rely on VOCA funds to provide resources to thousands of survivors every year, including counseling, rapid rehousing, legal services, crisis response, and other critical resources that support vulnerable individuals in the short and long term. 

Without action from our state leaders, the federal cuts will lead to a huge shortfall in California. Programs will be forced to cut staff and reduce services, and some may even have to shut down entirely. The impacts of these cuts will fall hardest on smaller programs, communities that have been historically underserved, and rural programs. In 2022 alone, these programs supported more than 816,000 survivors across the state.

Yet, the governor’s recently revised budget proposal did not include the $200 million in one-time funding that experts say is needed to limit the potentially catastrophic impact these cuts will have on survivors of crime, including victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse. We are not ignorant of the state’s financial position. But investing in the needs of crime survivors is an investment in public safety, public health, and community well-being. It must be a priority for California. 

When we don’t provide survivors with the support they need, we put them at risk of post-traumatic stress, revictimization, becoming homeless, and involvement in the criminal legal system. And while we believe in the importance of accountability, we worry when our system fails to prioritize healing as a necessary component of the response to crime. 

That’s why we must embrace approaches like restorative justice, which has been shown to both for survivors and among those who have caused harm.  

At Common Justice, an alternative-to-incarceration and victim service program that focuses on violent felonies in New York City’s adult courts, of victims who have been given the choice of seeing the person who harmed them incarcerated or seeing them take part in an alternate process have chosen Common Justice. Survivors who have participated in their programs have reported improvements in their mental health, including self-reported reductions in symptoms and hardships associated with trauma. Since 2012, just who enrolled in and graduated from the program has been convicted of a new violent felony offense. We are all safer when we provide space where survivors can heal and the individuals responsible for harm can take accountability and make amends.

We also must bring more trauma-informed practices into victim services. Seven in 10 victims of crime experiencing at least one symptom of trauma, and many describe the experience of navigating the criminal legal system as retraumatizing. Unaddressed trauma can affect academic achievement and job performance, and it can even lead people to commit violence themselves. Yet, 3 in 4 victims they did not receive counseling or other mental health support to help recover.

Likewise, we need to continue to invest in , which address the needs of underserved crime survivors, including those who choose not to pursue a criminal case. These centers help crime survivors make connections to safe housing, medical care, and other vital services that help them heal.

In our Prosecutors Alliance of California crime survivors, we asked, “If you had the resources and power to provide survivors anything they needed after a crime, what would you give them?” More than half of respondents mentioned emotional support, including someone to talk to, information, crisis support, and counseling. One respondent to our said, “People working with survivors need to learn to work with them and not make it worse for them.”

This requires individuals working in community organizations, prosecutors’ offices, police departments, courts, and victim service agencies to be trained on trauma-informed care and to remove barriers to counseling and mental health services. But the imminent funding cuts will only make it harder for victims to access such care and get the emotional support they need to recover. 

We must do better for victims in California. Governor ɫ̳om and the legislature must act now and maintain funding for existing programs so we can continue working towards the more holistic system of care that survivors want and deserve. 

Cristine Soto DeBerry is the Executive Director of Prosecutors Alliance Action.

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