Yesterday, STAR’s Legal Director, Morgan Lamandre, joined dozens of survivors and advocates to testify before the Louisiana Senate Select Committee on Women and Children about the need for the state to take more action to support survivors of sexual assault and hold the institutions that fail them accountable.
As Morgan said in her testimony, “Our state has continuously failed sexual assault survivors on every level.” Louisiana continues to be one of only a few states that do not provide state general funds for sexual assault centers, which provide critical, life-changing services to survivors in their communities.
Time and time again, survivors report how impactful STAR’s work is–not just our free and confidential support services to aid in their trauma recovery–but our dedication to challenging and holding these systems accountable that fail survivors. And while we are grateful for the work we have been able to do, we continuously face funding limitations and budget cuts that compromise our ability to do this work at the level needed to create lasting change.
STAR’s visibility and the breadth of our work in Louisiana is largely supported by a combination of federal funding, a few family foundations, and the fierce determination of our staff. Our relentless pursuit to protect and serve survivors, educate legislators and policy makers on ways to make impactful change, engage in meaningful prevention and social change work, and hold abusers and institutions accountable is a model for the nation.
Like STAR, sexual assault centers across the country are experiencing severe funding issues. According to Raliance, 64% of sexual assault programs in the U.S. experienced a decrease in funding–the largest of which was in private giving. In addition, dedicated federal dollars that support victims’ services are diminishing. Louisiana has experienced a 78.4% decrease in funding from the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) Fund–a non-taxpayer source of funding that supports victim services in governmental and nongovernmental agencies–over the past four years.
When sexual assault centers are underfunded, they cannot meet the needs of sexual assault survivors and prevention programs are sidelined. What continues to come to light is that survivors deserve more, and our state legislators and the institutions that make up our state have to do better. Now is not the time to allow for funding cuts for critical sexual assault services, rather it is the time to ensure and increase funding for these essential services given that the need and demand for these services continues to increase.
To get our services where they need to be to support survivors, here’s what needs to happen this year:
- Pass state legislation to add a line item for state funding for sexual assault centers to increase our state’s capacity to support survivors of sexual assault and advance prevention work our communities
- In addition to mandating Title IX training, require that colleges and universities contract with local sexual assault experts like STAR to deliver training to their faculty, staff, and students on the dynamics of sexual trauma and the ways to supportively respond to survivors of sexual and domestic violence
- Require all state agencies to review their workplace harassment policies and implement trainings to prevent workplace harassment that go beyond legal compliance
In addition to these issues that need to be addressed on the state level, we also urge Congress to swiftly pass the VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act of 2021 (VOCA Fix Act), which would amend the law to deposit penalties and fines from non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements into the Crime Victims Fund (CVF) and increase VOCA funding for victim services’ providers in Louisiana.
This cannot be the end of the conversation. Recognizing the harm that has been caused is the first step. Now, it is time for action.