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Governor Cuomo Announces Expansion of Support Program for Incarcerated Victims of Sexual Abuse

March 25, 2019 - 9:15am

State's Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline Now Available in All State Prisons to Provide Victims with Crisis Counseling, Support and Advocacy Hotline Made Possible by $2.5 Million in Funding Provided by the State Office of Victim Services

State's Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline Now Available in All State Prisons to Provide Victims with Crisis Counseling, Support and Advocacy

New York State Now Provides the Most Comprehensive Services for Incarcerated Individuals in the Nation

Hotline Made Possible by $2.5 Million in Funding Provided by the State Office of Victim Services

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that the state's domestic and sexual violence hotline is now available to incarcerated individuals throughout the state prison system, providing crisis counseling, as well as access to support, additional counseling and advocacy for individuals who are victims of sexual assault or harassment. With this implementation, New York has the most comprehensive victim support program available to survivors of sexual victimization in any state prison system in the nation. The 777 direct-dial number is available every day, in English, Spanish and other languages, at all 54 facilities operated by the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS).

"Incarcerated individuals who have experienced sexual harassment or assault deserve the same victim support services as any other New Yorker," Governor Cuomo said. "By providing these critical services across the state's correctional facilities, we can ensure that all incarcerated individuals who have been victims of this type of abuse have access to the counseling they deserve."

"We must continue to work to change the culture and create a safe environment for women to come forward and be believed," said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. "New York State's prison system is only the seventh in the nation to offer a statewide rape crisis hotline, and the only one to partner with community-based rape crisis and sexual assault programs to ensure that individuals receive the support and services they need to help them recover. With this expansion, we are taking important steps to ensure the security of victims and a safe environment for all women in New York State."

Under the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), states are required to provide certain services for incarcerated victims of sex crimes. New York State's prison system is only the seventh in the nation to offer a statewide rape crisis hotline and the only one to partner with community-based rape crisis and sexual assault programs to ensure that individuals receive the support and services they need to help them recover. This expansion is the result of more than $2.5 million in federal and state funding administered by the state Office of Victim Services (OVS).

Calls made to the direct-dial number, 777, are routed to Crisis Services in Buffalo, which has operated the state's Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline since 2010. Upon receiving a call from a state prison, Crisis Services' staff provide crisis counseling and make referrals for additional services to PREA centers. These centers are a network of six current rape crisis and victim assistance programs across the state that have staff specifically trained to assist incarcerated individuals. All conversations are kept confidential.

The Office of Victim Services was able to support this after receiving an increase in funding through the federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), which is funded through fines, fees and surcharges paid by certain offenders convicted in federal court, not taxpayers. Specifically, OVS awarded:

  • $2.1 million to the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault, which funded sexual assault and victim assistance programs to provide telephone counseling, advocacy and other support services, and, in some locations, in-person visits by staff affiliated with the six PREA Centers.
  • $440,000 to the state Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence (OPDV), which contracts with Crisis Services to administer the state's Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline. The additional funding allowed the hotline to expand to accept 777 calls from all DOCCS facilities, including adolescent offender facilities and the drug treatment campus.

OVS Director Elizabeth Cronin said, "Victims of sexual assault, no matter the circumstances, deserve access to counseling, advocacy, and emotional support services. With this partnership, we can help ensure these individuals have the resources they need to heal from the physical and psychological damage this type of crime can cause. Over the past two years, this agency has fostered new partnerships and significantly increased funding to programs across the state to improve access to services. We are committed to reaching - and helping - all victims of crime."

Acting DOCCS Commissioner Anthony J. Annucci said, "DOCCS is a leader in national efforts to improve correctional practices under PREA. DOCCS recognizes that having strong policies and practices in place in all of the areas addressed in the PREA Standards, including prevention, detection and response to prison rape and sexual harassment, contribute toward a culture of zero tolerance for all forms of sexual violence in its 54 facilities."

OPDV Executive Director Gwen Wright said, "As part of PREA, the statewide Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline is staffed by counselors who are trained to respond to a variety of service needs including counseling, information and referral services. For incarcerated individuals who are victims of sexual violence, confidential access to this type of resource - no matter where they are across the state - can make a significant difference in the well-being of the victim and can give them support and direction to help them move forward." 

To date, the domestic and sexual violence hotline has handled over 650 calls from callers within DOCCS facilities since it went live on January 8, 2019. DOCCS first began providing Enhanced Victim Services in March 2014, with five victim assistance programs providing services to inmates in 27 correctional facilities. Federal funding for that initiative, which went to DOCCS and the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault, totaled nearly $1.2 million and was administered by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services. 

Currently, six PREA Centers serve 40 DOCCS facilities, with the remaining 14 DOCCS facilities served primarily by local victim assistance programs and the six PREA Centers on an as-needed basis. The six PREA Centers are: Crisis Services, Inc. (Erie County), Crime Victims Treatment Center (Manhattan), RESTORE Sexual Assault Services (Monroe County), Safe Harbors of the Finger Lakes (Ontario, Seneca, Yates counties), Sexual Assault and Crime Victims Assistance Program at Samaritan Hospital (Rensselaer County), and Victim Assistance Services/WestCOP, Inc. (Westchester County). An additional one to two centers are expected to be added each year until there is full coverage for follow-up services at each facility statewide.

Further, DOCCS has implemented a series of strong internal policies and procedures to address or exceed federal PREA standards, including, but not limited to:

  • All staff and incarcerated individuals receive comprehensive education about their rights and responsibilities under PREA and DOCCS policy.
  • When a report is made, DOCCS medical staff provide treatment and arrange for evaluation by a hospital-based sexual assault forensic examiner as appropriate so that the incarcerated individual gets the same care that someone in the community would receive. 
  • DOCCS is expanding trauma identification/skill-building programs, recognizing that access to victim support and advocacy services can help someone who has experienced sexual victimization process the trauma and become better prepared for release, increasing their chances of a successful reentry to the community. 

Jessica Pirro, CEO of Crisis Services of Buffalo and Erie County, said, "The launch of this specialized statewide hotline and access to local Rape Crisis services is the result of years of collaboration and a great partnership between government and community based services. We are excited to be part of this effort working to bring critical services to incarcerated survivors and honored to serve as the hotline provider."

Joanne Zannoni, Executive Director of the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said, "We are heartened by the efforts and commitment of so many who have made the statewide hotline a reality. The hotline represents another step on our journey to ensuring access to services for all sexual assault victims who are incarcerated."

Victim Assistance Services/WestCOP Director Karel R. Amaranth, MPH, MA said, "Victims Assistance Services has been providing services to people who are incarcerated for the past 20 years through victim impact groups, and for the past five years as PREA Helpline providers for five New York State prisons. We recently engaged, with the support of NYS Office of Victims Services, a full-time prison trauma-focused therapist and PREA advocate to serve incarcerated individuals who have been sexually abused. We are proud to be partners with DOCCS and OVS in the continuing expansion of emotional support and advocacy within Corrections toward healing and well-being for all victims of sexual abuse."

Lindsey Crusan-Muse, Director of the Sexual Assault and Crime Victims Assistance Program at St. Peter's Health Partners, said, "Every sexual assault survivor, regardless of who they are or where they are located, is deserving of services and support to help them begin and work through the process of healing. St. Peter's Health Partners is proud to have been able to collaborate with the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and the Office of Victim Services on the development and growth of this project. We applaud New York State for sending a clear message that sexual assault, without exception, is unacceptable."

Jessica George, PREA Outreach and Education Specialist at RESTORE, said, "Though much work has been done to highlight the problem of sexual assault in our communities, the voices of incarcerated survivors of sexual assault have often been overlooked.  As Victim Advocates committed to the healing of all survivors, and as New Yorkers, we are proud to see DOCCS and OVS taking the most significant steps to date to give voice to and ensure the healing of incarcerated survivors."

Anina Hamilton, Program Director for Safe Harbors of the Finger Lakes, said, "Safe Harbors of the Finger Lakes has been eagerly awaiting the implementation of the Statewide Rape Crisis Hotline. This hotline will allow sexual assault survivors to access advocacy and support services through rape crisis agencies in a more streamlined way, and allow agencies to provide more comprehensive services. This response is incredibly important to the emotional and physical recovery of sexual assault victims."

Rachel Herzog, PREA Program Coordinator at the Crime Victims Treatment Center, said, "Immediate access to compassionate, trauma-informed crisis intervention and victim advocacy services can be crucial to the healing process for survivors of sexual violence. We are thrilled that the statewide PREA Hotline will make such services more accessible than ever before to incarcerated survivors in New York State, and recognize the deep collaborative work between DOCCS, OVS, and the victim services community that has made the program possible. We are proud to offer our therapeutic services to incarcerated survivors as partners in this vital initiative."

Linda McFarlane, Deputy Executive Director of Just Detention International, said, "All survivors of sexual abuse, including survivors in prison, need and deserve quality rape crisis services. By launching the new statewide Rape Crisis Hotline program, in conjunction with the Victim Advocacy and Emotional Support Partnership, New York State is poised to become a leader in ensuring the safety and dignity of the people in its facilities. These services will make New York prisons safer and ensure that survivors of sexual abuse get the help they need."

Throughout his time in office, Governor Cuomo has made protecting all victims of sexual assault a priority. Last year, Governor Cuomo signed legislation that extended the sexual offense evidence collection kit retention period at hospitals from 30 days to 20 years, providing victims with the time and space to heal before deciding to contact authorities. In addition, New York's "Enough is Enough" law, championed by Governor Cuomo, is the strongest law in the nation to combat sexual assault on college campuses.

The state's Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline is available for referrals and assistance 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-942-6906 or 711 for deaf or hard of hearing.

The Office of Victim Services provides a safety net for crime victims and/or their family members, assisting eligible individuals for medical and counseling expenses, funeral and burial expenses, lost wages and support, in addition to other assistance, all at no cost to taxpayers. The agency also funds 222 victim assistance programs that provide direct services, including counseling, advocacy and legal services, across the state. For more information, eligibility guidelines and to locate a victim assistance program, visit www.ovs.ny.gov or call 1-800-247-8035.

The Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence advises the Governor and Legislature on policies and practices for the state; trains professionals from all disciplines across the state about the intersection of domestic violence in their daily practice; and serves as a resource regarding the issue of domestic violence by disseminating regular public awareness campaigns, publishing materials for use by non-profits and victims and highlighting best practices. For more information, visit www.opdv.ny.gov.

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