Essential services for sexual assault survivors in Florida are facing imminent crisis due to the federal government shutdown, with looming layoffs and cutbacks at programs around the state if the shutdown continues. Some of the state’s 31 certified sexual assault programs could even be forced to close their doors.
This crisis is the result of an impending lapse in federal funds that nearly all Florida programs rely on to pay their staff, including advocates, therapists, and nurses. With the impasse on its way to becoming the longest shutdown in U.S. history, Florida’s sexual assault programs are bracing for drastic cuts in staffing and provision of services to victims and survivors. Without a federal resolution, programs will experience employee layoffs, increasing backlogs on service waiting lists that are already stressed, and be forced to try and meet increasing demands with reduced resources.
Twenty-eight of the 31 sexual assault programs around the state receive Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) funding. Financed through criminal penalties, this funding is used to pay the salaries of 188 advocates, therapists, and nurses performing forensic medical exams, allowing programs to provide comprehensive sexual violence recovery services to victims of all ages. While the state administers the VOCA grant, Florida programs will suffer interruptions in funding because the money comes from the federal government.
More than eight programs could be reducing staff within the next three weeks, significantly impacting their ability to provide services to victims. Five more will have to cut services beginning in February, while another four are only able to provide comprehensive services through March. Programs serve thousands of victims and provide tens of thousands of services yearly with VOCA funding, which will not be possible with a continued shutdown.
Sexual assault program services include: 24-hour helpline; advocacy; crisis intervention; accompaniment including to forensic medical exams; information and referral; and trauma-focused individual and group counseling/therapy.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, programs are experiencing increased demands for services and are already stretched thin in terms of finances and staffing.
A prolonged government shutdown means closed doors. It means survivors not being treated and assisted. It means turning our backs on victims.
About the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence
As Florida’s sexual assault coalition, FCASV has worked since 1986 to improve the criminal justice response to all sex crimes and, most importantly, ensure access to high-quality, survivor-centered services for victims and their loved ones. We ensure access to these vital services by supporting Florida’s certified sexual assault programs with state-of-the-art training and technical assistance; monitoring compliance with service and governance standards; and distributing state and federal appropriations for sexual assault services.