A federal grant that provides states with funds to investigate domestic abuse, sexual assault and stalking has lapsed, leaving police departments, crisis centers and victim’s advocates wondering what comes next.
The Violence Against Women Act, originally passed in 1994, provides funds for 53 different entities across Oklahoma that investigate domestic abuse, sexual assault, stalking, sexual assault against minors and help victims of said crimes. The act was due to be renewed in December, but the date came and went during the current partial shutdown of the federal government.
Laura Russell, the program specialist for the three state grants funded by the act, said the lapse will have no immediate effect, but if the act is not restored by mid-January, grant funds to agencies and crisis centers would be cut off.
“In December, they requested reimbursement for their November expenses,” Russell said. “We have submitted those requests to [The Office of Violence Against Women] and those will go through. They’ll submit requests for their December expenses by January 15, and if the government is still shut down, those will not be reimbursed until the government is reopened.”
The act provides funding for three different grants in Oklahoma. The VAWA grant funds investigators, prosecutors and victims’ agencies that deal with victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking who are 11 years of age or older. The Sexual Assault Services grant is slightly different, as it focuses on sexual assault, but can fund services for child victims as well. The Rural Grant is specifically set aside for rural counties, and can fund state agencies, victims’ service agencies or tribes that help victims of sexual assault, stalking and domestic violence.
“They’re all three different grant awards, but they’re all funded by the Office of Violence Against Women,” Russell said.
There are currently 41 VAWA sub-grantees, nine SAS sub-grantees and three Rural sub grantees in the state. Despite VAWA’s name, Russell said the funds are intended to help victims regardless of gender, and men are specifically considered an underserved group.
“VAWA is our largest grant award,” Russell said. “Rural is predominantly for rural counties; we have a grant in district 9, which is Logan and Payne County. It’s really only for Payne County, because Logan County, according to the criteria we follow, is considered urban.”
The rural grant funds services in areas like Atoka and Coal County.
“We fund investigators in their office,” Russell said. “In Calera, we fund a police officer with the Calera Police Department.”
Crisis Control Center in Durant is one of the recipients of the VAWA grant funds. The organization provides victims of domestic violence and sexual assault with shelter, housing, clothing, medical resources, counseling and advocacy in court. Eileen Meadows, an advocate with Crisis Control, said VAWA grant funds pay for two employees: A program coordinator and one of the center’s five victim advocates.
“If it does go away permanently, we’d have to look elsewhere for those funds,” Meadows said.
Crisis Control Center provides confidential help for victims and operates a 24-hour hotline at (580) 924-3030.
“If it were just temporary, we wouldn’t be effected directly, because we have funds set aside for a couple of months,” Meadows said. “But there are going to be agencies in Oklahoma that aren’t as well off as we are.”