SALT LAKE CITY — Victims of violent crime in Utah may not be aware that millions of dollars are spent on services aimed at empowering them and keeping them safe.
The Utah Legislature’s Executive Offices and Criminal Justice Appropriations Subcommittee received an update Friday on what services are available to assist crime victims and how state and federal funds are spent to help these victims.
Tallie Viteri, assistant director of the Utah Office for Victims of Crime, told the subcommittee that more than 95,259 victims of crime in Utah received services between the beginning of July 2018 and the end of June 2019. The victim services office offers some resources itself, including a hotline, but mainly directs crime victims to other services, such as children’s justice centers, rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters.
Of these victims, 78,049 received referral services, 58,887 received criminal or civil justice system assistance, 48,679 received emotional support and safety services, 37,334 received personal advocacy and accompaniment services, and 5,492 received shelter and housing services, Viteri said.
The number of victims of crime served, including those who have experienced assault, sexual violence, domestic abuse or child abuse, has increased over the years, according to Viteri. There were 60,280 victims served in 2013-2014, meaning 58% more victims received services last year.
Viteri told the state lawmakers that victim services funding comes from fines and penalties of convicted federal offenders as opposed to tax dollars. She added that Congress lifted the cap on funding in 2015 and that funding spiked in 2018 to $31 million.
While funding has increased over the years, Viteri said there is no guarantee that level of federal funding will continue.
“These gains (in the number of victims served) are jeopardized if action isn’t taken as the (federal) fund threatens to drop below $4 billion by the end of 2021,” a presentation by Viteri said.
Director Gary Scheller said this can be avoided by having the State Legislature act as a buffer by allocating enough state dollars to keep programs funded.
The victim services office hasn’t been awarded its next batch of federal funding yet, but Viteri said they expect to get $16.5 million, which would be a 25% decrease from the previous year.
Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, who is co-chair of the criminal justice subcommittee, asked whether this meant the office would ask the state for $6 or $7 million in additional funding next year. Scheller said they didn’t plan on doing so, adding that they won’t put out a request for a proposal until next spring.
Sen. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, who is also co-chair, said he wanted to “assess what the crime victims’ actual need is independent of what funding is,” adding that he sees a correlation between spending, outreach and obligation to provide funding.
“That would be a very valuable tool to be able to assess how (we are) doing,” said Anderegg.
Currently, the victim services office spends $6.1 million on criminal justice victim advocacy programs, $4.5 million on domestic violence programs, $4.3 million on child abuse programs, $3.3 million on sexual assault programs and $2.7 million on housing programs.
The presentation before the subcommittee included quotes from crime victims who had received services. One child abuse victim reflected on their visit to the Utah County Children’s Justice Center.
“I felt really safe here,” they said. “I like how kind you all are. I didn’t feel as nervous as I thought I would be … I’m glad that I could have the opportunity to share my story with such understanding people.”
A sexual assault victim in Salt Lake County talked about their experience at the Rape Recovery Center in Salt Lake City, calling it something that “saved my life.”
“They were my crutch until I was able to come out of the fog of trauma and discover what it meant to be happy again,” the unnamed victim said.