The Orange County Rape Crisis Center (OCRCC) will lose a quarter of its budget, about $300,000, in the coming fiscal year thanks to funding decreases at the federal level. This shortfall, announced in the midst of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, means that nearly half of the nonprofit’s staff will be laid off.
It’s the first time layoffs have been necessary since the 2008 recession.
“This is going to be hard, but we’re not going away,” Rachel Valentine, the executive director of OCRCC, told the INDY. “The Orange County Rape Crisis Center is not going anywhere.”
While the decades-old center will not be shutting its doors, the changes will be felt directly by the community. More than 600 survivors use OCRCC every year. Aside from layoffs, budget cuts could affect the organization’s “SafeTouch” program, which is taught in 30 schools to more than 12,000 kids. It’s been taught in Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools for 35 years.
The program’s curriculum centers on helping kids learn to identify when someone touches them in a way that feels unsafe or uncomfortable, but how this information is presented varies based on age and disability. The program is offered in Spanish and English. While it’s currently taught by full-time OCRCC staff, Valentine predicts that the organization will have to create training programs for schools, which school staff will then teach to students, as a result of the budget cuts and layoffs.
This also means that instances of potential sexual abuse may go unnoticed. Through OCRCC’s SafeTouch program, more than 100 incidents are followed up on every year after a child says or does something during the program that could indicate abuse, but these behaviors could be missed by someone not trained to recognize them. It also gives teachers one more thing to do on top of the long list of demands they already face.
The funding cut isn’t just the result of the pandemic. It’s the result of a much longer drip from the Crime Victims Fund, a pool of money collected under the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA). The funding comes from fines and fees collected from those convicted of federal crimes. Valentine notes that most of this money comes from white-collar crime, which the U.S. Department of Justice has started handling via deferred prosecution in recent years as opposed to taking offenders to court.
There may be money from deferred prosecutions, but it goes to a general fund instead of the specific fund for crime victims. This has led to a $600 million decrease in the Crime Victims Fund, and it affects every state, meaning every state has less money to allocate to nonprofits. For Orange County Rape Crisis Center, this means the automatic funding they receive every two years, which accounts for 25 percent of its annual budget, will be cut in half. Valentine says it’s likely that their programs funded by grants could be cut by 30 percent.
North Carolina has six stand-alone rape crisis centers; OCRCC is the only one in the Triangle. The other five are located in Carteret, Cumberland, Scotland, Robeson, and New Hanover counties, although they all serve more of the surrounding area. Meanwhile, nearly 11,000 North Carolinians got help from rape crisis centers between July 2019 and June 2020.
A bill known as the “VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act” is currently sitting in the U.S. Senate, awaiting action, after the House passed the legislation in March. North Carolina’s two Republican senators—Thom Tillis and Richard Burr—have cosponsored a Senate version.
“Congress must act now to preserve and strengthen the Crime Victims Fund,” Tillis said in a March press release. “We owe it to every victim to make sure victim service providers in North Carolina and nationwide have the necessary resources to assist those in need.”
On Wednesday, as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Crime Victims’ Rights Week, N.C. Coalition Against Sexual Assault is partnering with sexual violence organizations across the country to move the needle on the legislation by reaching out to representatives. Since Tillis and Burr have cosponsored the Senate bill, activists are asking them to advocate for the legislation among the Republican Party. Both the Senate and House bills have bipartisan support.
Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.