On Friday, the House of Representatives passed a bill to ensure that the Victims of Crime Act is fully funded.

That means critical dollars are available for victim services programs including local organizations such as the Sexual Assault Center of Northwest Georgia, Hospitality House and Harbor House Child Advocacy Center.

VOCA funds essential victim services such as medical care, mental health care, and victim advocacy for child victims of abuse as well as many other victims of crimes served by agencies nationwide. It’s important to know that the act does not use taxpayer money to fund victim services. It uses money coming from fines and fees levied against those convicted of federal crimes and as a part of settlements in federal criminal cases.

What that means for us, is that organizations such as the Sexual Assault Center, Hospitality House and Harbor House can continue to do the critical work they do in Rome and Floyd County.

The Sexual Assault Center provides a crisis hotline, hospital accompaniment, one-site exams, support counseling, court accompaniment, legal assistance and a slew of other resources to local victims of sexual assault.

Harbor House Child Advocacy Center provides resources and help to children who may be victims of sexual abuse and severe physical abuse. It provides a safe and comfortable environment where victims can be interviewed about their experiences ONCE and it also offers advocacy services to children and their families as well as on-site trauma-focused therapy services, all free of charge.

Hospitality House offers free and confidential services to victims of domestic violence including emergency shelter, food and clothing, 24-hour crisis intervention, financial support, legal advocacy, support groups and relocation assistance.

While the good news is that the bill passed the House of Representatives and will most likely make it through the Senate and eventually be passed into law, that is tempered by the fact that our district’s representative in congress, Marjorie Taylor Greene, was one of those who voted against the HR 1652. It passed by a 384-38 vote and we are disappointed that our representative was among the minority who put critical help to victims in jeopardy.

Joe Costolnick, executive director of Harbor House, said he’s disappointed that anyone would vote against helping victims and survivors adding that without the bill passing there is a “solid chance” his organization and others like it would not make it since VOCA funding constitutes between 50% and 70% of their overall budget.

“This funding is vital,” said Kimberly King, executive director of the Sexual Assault Center. “It’s really sad that anyone would vote against this bill. We’re so thankful that our federal and state governments recognize the vital services we provide. Our issue isn’t as easy to promote as other because of the nature of what we do. We need this money.”

King said she invites our politicians to visit the Sexual Assault Center, as well as other groups offering victims services to learn more about the services they provide and to see why those services are so important.

“The reason VOCA funding should be supported is because that money comes with standards,” Costolnick said. “They’re giving us money to conduct our services but that work must be conducted at a certain level of quality. We have to meet very high standards. When you support a VOCA-funded organization you know the job’s being done correctly.”

He cited an additional reason to support these organizations is that the information they collect and provide is critical to law enforcement, DFCS and their investigations.

We are hopeful that the bill is passed into law and that our victims services programs continue to be funded and supported. And we echo King’s invitation to our politicians to visit local organizations that provide these critical services to victims so that they can see first-hand what they’re supporting and what they’re fighting against.

We would like to say a special “thank you” to the staff and volunteers at our local victims services organizations who, on a daily basis, deal with some of the darkest crimes in our community. You see abuse in its ugliest forms and yet you continue to fight. Your work makes a difference and we support you.

Thank you for reading.

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