Under Oregon law, that cash is supposed to go into the state's crime victim's fund. That pot of money helps fund crucial services in the state like sexual assault hotlines, domestic violence shelters, and victim counseling.
But domestic violence victims advocates are worried that the squeezed state government will take much of that $56 million and divide it up between other funds, leaving sexual assault resources in the cold. The millions pouring into the fund comes just when other state services—like schools and healthcare—are worried about drastic budget cuts. It's no surprise legislators would start eyeing the cash for other important uses.
This is a windfall for the fund, but it has to be viewed in the context that domestic violence services have been severely underfunded in the state for years.
Nearly 23,000 requests for emergency shelter from violence could not be met in Oregon in 2010 says local domestic violence shelter Raphael House, and domestic violence wound up killing 49 people. Back in 2009, the Portland Women's Crisis Line had to tell 65 percent of callers that there was no shelter space for them, suggesting people fleeing violence instead hunker down in 24-hour-coffee-shops, the airport lobby, or hospital waiting rooms.
Even desperately needed new projects, like the city and county's much-vaunted one stop shop shelter that opened in 2010, have to cobble together funds from sources and wait years to see the resources get off the ground.
Raphael House, the 40-bed Portland shelter that is "always full" according to its director, is asking the state to keep the entire $56 million in the crime victims fund. Just to put the finances in perspective, Raphael House works with 10,000 clients a year on a budget of only $1.8 million, eight percent of which ($143,000) currently comes from the state.
"Oregon has a responsibility to ensure that every victim who comes forward to seek help has access to life-saving services," writes Raphael House's staff in an open letter to the state. " With the payment of the recent punitive damages award, we now have an opportunity to meet that responsibility."
"We're working hard to get in front of this to make sure the money is going to go where it's supposed to go," adds Raphael House Development Director Karol Collymore. "It would go a long way for us."