As National Crime Victims’ Rights Week enfolds, legislative and government leaders are taking action to magnify the voices of survivors of violence and crime victims. Commnunity organization leaders as well as Assemblymembers Reggie Jones-Sawyer, Eloise Reyes and Sen. Maria Elena Durazo joined survivors of crime in a virtual town hall discussion on April 21, 2020 about the key role community-based crisis assistance services play in stopping the spread of COVID-19 among California’s most vulnerable communities. The goal for the call was to find ways to build more comprehensive systems to effectively respond to the COVID-19 crisis and the violence it may ominously hide in our communities.

The virtual event was sponsored by Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, California’s largest network of survivors of crime that works to create healing communities and advocates for reduced incarceration  and prevention of violence. CSSJ representatives opened the call by discussing how the network is working to pivot virtually to engage membership and continue support of crime survivors and the essential workers that have been on the ground doing forefront work.

Countless other community and government leaders were on the call. Timiza Wash, who is the anti-trafficking program manager of WEAVE, opened up about WEAVE’s action for Black women being affected by the rise of gun violence during COVID-19. “I will say that one of the things that have remained is that black women are at the center in the most disproportionately affected by crime and violence. We have seen the impacts of the vulnerable communities, just resources continuing to not be available. And we realized that black women are not socialized and talk about trauma as much. And so one of the things we’ve have been really Paramount and leading with vision in doing more cultural responsiveness, we want to make sure people of color, especially black women are getting to the services in a way that meets their needs, not as we have wanted it to be.”

Housing, access to protective equipment, medical resources, and COVID-19 recovery are all points of contention for crime survivors in the South Los Angeles district. Ben “Taco” Owens, executive director, Detours Mentoring Group Inc., Los Angeles Ceasefire contributed to the call with reports on actions being taken moving forward. “We know that crime is down, but we have to consider that that’s only crime. They’re not being reported. So there’s a lot of situations or people who have been victimized, victimized, it’s not being reported. And we’re trying to find a way how once this COVID-19 recovery starts, how we’re going to be able to assist people who have been impacted by financial crime during this crisis.”

Gena Castro Rodriguez, chief of victims services, San Francisco district attorney’s office is getting creative with victim response and engagement. For the four crime types – domestic abuse, child abuse, scam and fraud towards elders, and hate crimes – there are pillars of action being taken. By partnering with companies such as Veritas Investments, Lyft, San Francisco Police Department, and creating content in various languages for citizens educating them on fraud prevention and safety, the DA’s office is relentlessly finding ways to pivot and address crime that affects vulnerable communities.

“We want to ensure that violence prevention and trauma recovery services for survivors are supported and clearly deemed as essential. We want to stabilize victims compensation funding. We want to make sure that we’re providing as a state legal protection to all crime survivors, especially from least terminations, we know that there are certain victim experiences right now that are protected. We want to make sure that that gets extended to all crime victim experiences.”

Through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Release, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, California stands to receive an enormous influx of funds. By combining these funds with existing tools and resources, the state holds the opportunity to do more to ensure that survivors and community-based providers have necessary resources and are at the center of the state’s safety strategy.

“Not enough of this money then went toward community-based prevention, the community-based prevention and healing services that keep us safe. And so this time around, we know that we need our counties and our state to invest these dollars in community driven public health responses to violence and trauma to reentry services to services to support survivors to essential personal protective equipment for those providing frontline services that we are, that we that we know are essential and critical in this time that are showing up every day in this time to respond. And we now more than ever need to invest in and new safety priorities that are rooted in healing and prevention. And make sure that these funds are used for just that.”

Vulnerable before the COVID-19 pandemic, survivors of crime are now at a disproportionate risk for insurmountable health consequences and an increase in financial instability. More than ever, the health and safety of survivors depends upon the ability of frontline community-based service providers to respond to violence and provide support. Trusted community services and vulnerable community needs cannot be overlooked. Pivoting to virtual meetings, such as the call that took place yesterday, have become a community movement to ensure that these critical frontline providers are adequately equipped to safely support survivors during this crisis.