The Need for VOCA Assistance Funding

In FY 15, Congress released $2.36 billion from the Crime Victims Fund, an amount approximating the average collections into the fund for each of the past 3 years. This represents a 3.5-fold increase in funding over previous years. Because of the way the funding is disbursed, the increase will be almost entirely applied to grants for victim assistance at the state and local levels. 

As a point of comparison, while states received a total of $456 million in victim assistance funding in FY 2014, that funding is expected to be $ 1.9 billion for FY 15.

Some have wondered whether such an increase in funding can be responsibly absorbed by the states. This document attempts to identify the funding needs for victim services, to simply extending victim services to meet the current demand for services or to reach new populations or provide new services. However, states have considerable flexibility in using their VOCA assistance funding to meet the particular needs of victims in their communities; thus, not all states would choose to fully fund each of the services identified here.

In addition to state and local programs, there is a real need to fund tribal programs. Crime victimization rates on tribal lands have been estimated as much as 250% higher than the national rate; murder rates of American Indian women on some reservations are 1000% higher than the national average.  Tribal governments, like other governments, are responsible for meeting the needs of victims in their communities. Unfortunately, tribal governments often have few or no resources available to provide services to victims, and, as a result, the victim services infrastructure on tribal lands lags significantly behind the rest of the country. 

The need for additional resources in order to meet the needs of crime victims has been more than amply documented by a Bureau of Justice Statistics study showing that, between 1992 and 2009, only 9 percent of serious violent crime victims received help or advice from a victim service agency. (

Need for VOCA Assistance Funding

  1. Maintain existing funding for programs. In considering the total funding need, it is important to remember that existing services are already funded at $456 million. This would need to be at least $512 million, an additional $56 million, to restore funding to the same level in real dollars as in 2000.
  2. ADDITIONAL FUNDING NEEDS.   The specific examples of funding needs referenced here are very rough calculations, but are provided as a means of illustration.

Across the board increases for existing programs. In most states, the limitations on funding have meant that needs to update technology or upgrade infrastructure have been long neglected. One mid-sized state estimated it would spend between $1,000 and $5,000 per program for infrastructure upgrades, and $1,000 to $1 million per technology upgrades for each of its subgrantees. 

In addition, staff salaries have been frozen for many years, and many service organizations have been unable to provide benefits. As a result, victim service programs suffer the routine loss of trained and experienced staff, limiting the capacity of programs to meet demand. One mid-sized state has recommended increasing VOCA-funded salaries at the modest rate of 5%. Another, smaller state has indicated it plans to spend more than $700,000 over the next three years to increase staff salaries and benefits.   

Children’s Advocacy Centers provide a child-focused, multidisciplinary response to child abuse, especially child sexual abuse. CACs bring together law enforcement, child protective services, prosecution, mental health, medical, family/victim advocacy, and other resources in a model community response to child abuse, in order to achieve better outcomes for victims and families. 

NEED: Every one of the 800 existing programs can use at least one more professional, whether a counselor, a victim advocate, or a forensic interviewer. At an average salary of $50,000 x 800 CACs, that would require an additional $40 mil.

In addition, 1,000 counties do not have access to a CAC. At an average annual budget of $200,000, meeting that need would cost $200 million

Native American children are at increased risk for victimization, but very few CACs exist on tribal lands. While some tribal communities may be served by CACs off the reservation, the average driving distance to a CAC from tribal lands is 62 miles. For over 100 tribal communities, the driving distance is between 100 and 300 miles.  Creating access to CACs for 100 tribal communities at an average annual budget of $200,000 would cost $20 million. Creating it for 250 tribes (less than half the tribes in the nation) would cost $50 million.

Domestic Violence Victim Services include emergency shelter, advocacy, legal services, counseling, rehousing, education, prevention, and domestic violence hotlines.  These life-saving services are vital to the safety and recovery of victims.

NEED: In 2013 alone, programs were forced to cut almost 1,700 staff positions.  At an average salary of $41,000 (not including benefits), simply to return to 2012 staffing levels would cost approximately $80 million.   

This number is artificially low, however, because shelters and other direct service providers were already understaffed in 2012 and have been never been funded adequately to meet the needs of victims.

Sexual Assault Services help victims heal and help the criminal justice system respond better. Nearly 1 in 5 women has been the victim of rape or attempted rape. When advocates are present in the legal and medical proceedings following rape, victims fare better in both the short- and long-term recovery, experiencing less psychological distress, physical health struggles, sexual risk-taking behaviors, self-blame, guilt, and depression. Rape survivors supported by advocates were 59% more likely to have police reports taken than survivors without advocates, whose reports were only taken 41% of the time.

NEED: According to a 2014 survey by the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, more than 1/3 of rape crisis centers have a waiting list for services, especially counseling. The average wait time is 5 weeks. More than 40% of centers have had to reduce staffing in the past few years due to funding cuts, losing an average of 3 positions. To fully serve victims, each of the 1300 existing centers needs at least 3 additional advocates: one to reach unserved and underserved victims; another for campus, youth, and military victims; and one to address the waiting lists and start support groups for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. At an average salary and benefits of $50,000 (x 3 positions x 1300 centers) that would be an estimated $195 million

Tribal Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services. Native American women are assaulted at rates two and a half times the national average. While some tribes provide services for domestic violence and sexual assault victims, resources for doing so are woefully inadequate. 

NEED: For FY 2014, DOJ’s Office on Violence Against Women received applications from tribal governments requesting approximately $55.6 million for domestic violence and sexual assault services in its two primary tribal grant programs. OVW provided $33.26 million, suggesting an unmet need of at least $22 million.

Stalking victim services.  Stalking is a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear. It is serious, often violent, and can escalate over time. Stalkers can be current or former intimate partners, or they can be colleagues, acquaintances, neighbors, or strangers. Unfortunately, victims of stalking—particularly non-intimate partner stalking—rarely have access to community-based services that can provide support, safety planning, advocacy, and other services. 

NEED: A specialized victim advocate for stalking victims is estimated to cost $70,000 in salary, benefits, travel, and administrative costs. To fund one position for every four counties or county-equivalents would total approximately $55 million

To fund one stalking expert in half of the 566 tribal communities at $50,000 for salary and benefits would cost $14 million.

Services for trafficking victims. Sex and labor trafficking victims need specially designed services, including specialized shelter services, case management, legal services, navigators to connect trafficking victims with these and other services, as well as training and outreach to the criminal justice, child protection, and other professionals who come into contact with such victims. 

NEED: While precise calculations are not available, Minnesota is considered a leader in funding services for sex trafficking victims. It recently increased its spending to $5 million. While the Minnesota funding does not include labor trafficking victims, it still represents a useful starting figure for funding. If every state funded trafficking services at $5 million, and DC and the territories funded it at ¼ that level, there would be a total funding need of $255 million.

To fund one trafficking expert in half of the 566 tribal communities at $50,000 for salary and benefits would cost $14 million

Legal assistance for victims

Victims’ rights clinics. Victims’ rights clinics represent the rights and interests of victims in the criminal case. They ensure that rights will be honored in practice, not just in statute. To date, only a few clinics have been created, though the need has been recognized. 

NEED: An estimated 74 victims’ rights clinics are be needed to meet the demand across the country (one clinic per 6 million residents, with a minimum of one per state and territory/DV) at a cost of $500,000 per clinic, for a total of $37 million.

To meet the unique legal needs of tribal victims, each tribal community would ideally have access to a victims’ rights attorney who is familiar with tribal law, custom, and culture. Providing one attorney for each Indian tribe at $80,000 for salary and benefits would cost $45 million. Alternatively, ensuring that every state victims’ rights clinic employs an attorney with expertise in Indian law and cultural competence working with tribal communities would cost a total of $4 million

Civil and family law assistance for victims. Legal services are second only to medical services as the most-requested need of victims. However, of all victims of violence against women who reported needing legal services, 64% received NO assistance from an attorney. Legal services can help victims with practical matters, including seeking protective orders, custody and child support issues, breaking a lease to regain safety, and so forth. 

NEED: Looking at typical expenses under the existing special OVW grant program, the average cost is $163,265 per lawyer, which includes a legal aid-level salary and all overhead and related expenses (space, computer, benefits, required annual training, etc.). If every state funded a mere 100 additional victim attorneys, and the territories another 100 combined, that would total an additional $832.6 million.

Very few tribes currently operate legal services programs, but where they exist, they have been very successful and report a high demand for services. Funding an additional 100 tribal legal assistance lawyers for victims would cost $163 million

Services for victims of elder abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation

Shelters. Many elder victims of crime are abused or exploited by family members, caregivers, or predators. As a result, many of them need shelter services to ensure their safety and prevent homelessness. To date, approximately a dozen senior shelters have been created. 

NEED: Elder abuse shelters are needed all across the country. They can be free-standing or as part of existing care facilities with an additional staff position dedicated to the needs of abused or exploited elders. The costs for such a program can range from $100,000 to $500,000 per year.  Therefore, to establish a minimum of two such shelters per state would cost between $5 million and $25 million.  

Specialized Legal Assistance.  Specialized attorneys can assist elder victims with restraining orders, recovering misappropriated funds and property, contesting evictions, advocating for restitution, and providing other legal assistance. 

NEED: There are currently approximately 1,000 legal services providers nationwide that are funded by the Older Americans Act. However, they are unable to meet the demand for services. As noted above, the median costs for an attorney are $163,265 per lawyer, which includes a legal aid-level salary and all overhead and related expenses (space, computer, benefits, required annual training, etc.) To fund an additional 500 attorneys would be $81.6 million.

Victim advocates.  Specialized victim advocates in prosecutor’s offices that can provide a sensitive and trained response to victims of elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation are needed nationwide. These advocates can assist victims seek restitution and victim compensation, intercede or advocate with creditors and public benefits offices, convene or participate in multidisciplinary teams, and provide other outreach.

NEED:  Very few prosecutors’ offices have a special victim advocate for elder victims. (For example, only 14 of 40 prosecutor-based programs in California have specialized services for older adults.) If each of these positions, for salary and benefits plus associated costs is $50,000, then the cost to fund 20 of these positions in every state, and 20 across the territories, would cost approximately $51 million. 

Services for the survivors of homicide victims are rarely funded but sorely needed, for surviving spouses, children, and other affected family members and partners. Needed services include criminal justice advocacy, assistance in applying for victim compensation, funding to travel to trials that are out of state, legal assistance, financial counseling if the murdered victim was the breadwinner, mental health counseling or other therapy, and similar services. 

NEED: While precise calculations are not available, one state provides an illustration of the cost. Iowa is the rare state that has committed to supporting regional services for survivors of homicide and other violent crimes. In FY 2014, the state used $393,441 in federal grant funds to support 4 regional programs for survivors of homicide and other violent crimes. Assuming the creation of a minimum of 4 such programs per state and one per territory/DC, meeting this need would cost approximately $20 million.

Creating 25 such programs for tribal victims would cost approximately $2.5 million.

Victim services in prosecutor offices. Every prosecutor’s office should have at least one victim assistant, who can link victims to community services, assist them in filing an application for victim compensation, provide notice of events and proceedings, assist victims in exercising their rights to make an impact statement or request restitution, and provide additional support.

NEED: While many states already use VOCA funds for victim assistants in prosecutor’s offices, many of those offices do not yet have a victim assistant position. To fill this gap would require an additional 1,000 positions. At a total funding of $50,000 per position (salary, benefits, payroll taxes, etc.) the total funding need is $50 million

Nearly 200 Indian tribes operate criminal courts.  Placing a victim assistant in each tribal prosecutor’s office would cost $10 million

Improving LGBT victim access to mainstream services. Victims who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender are at increased risk of victimization, but mainstream service providers are not always equipped to provide effective outreach and services.

NEED: One state has funded five sites to improve access to services for LBGTQ victims of crime and abuse, at a cost of $120,000 each. If all states funded five such expansions, and the territories each funded one, the total cost would be $30.5 million.

Innovative services for young victims, especially male victims of color. Young males of color suffer disproportionately high rates of victimization, yet are among the least likely to report crime or seek services. Innovative approaches are being developed to better respond to their needs, including Common Justice, a restorative justice program that provides participants with a respectful and effective means of accountability, an equitable and dignified avenue to healing, and the tools to break cycles of violence. 

NEED: To replicate this program in other cities would cost $1 million each. For even one program per state, the total cost would be $50 million.

Training for new victim advocates. Based on existing VOCA staffing levels, we can expect to recruit an additional 60,000 or more new full-time paid direct victim service staff. It is important to ensure that these new staff are well trained and qualified to provide direct services to crime victims experience crisis and trauma.  

NEED: Quality training for new victim advocates will require, at a minimum, $1,500 per staff, or to train the anticipated 60,000 new full time staff a total of at least $90 million.  


Other needed services include:


Language access to services for victims with limited English proficiency. Approximately 9 percent of the U.S. population have limited English proficiency. Victims of crime and abuse must be able to access legal and supportive services, and for those with limited English proficiency, this means having access to interpreters or bilingual service providers. For a description of the legal obligation to provide such services, and the means to provide them, see “Ensuring Language Access to Immigrant Victims of Sexual Assault,” at

Immigration assistance for victims. There is a great need for attorneys who can help victims apply for immigration relief, so that victims have access to U-Visas, T-Visas, VAWA self-petitions, and other forms of immigration relief.  

Police-based victim assistants. Police-based victim assistants are among the best-placed professionals who can link victims to important recovery resources, assist them in applying for crime victim compensation, and answer their basic questions about the system. Many more departments nationwide can use such a position, including tribal police departments. 

Improved access to services for victims with physical and mental disabilities. Persons with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to crime, including abuse by intimate partners and caregivers. 

Campus-based victim services. With colleges, universities, trade schools and others newly attuned to the problems of sexual assault, dating violence, stalking, assaults, hate crimes, and other crimes, many states would like to direct additional VOCA funding to those programs. 


Information compiled by the National Center for Victims of Crime. Questions or requests for additional information may be directed to Susan Howley, public policy director at the National Center, at