Evaluation of the STOP Formula Grants 2000 Report: The Violence Against Women Act of 1994

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Document date: March 15, 2000
Released online: March 15, 2000

Highlights of the 2000 Report

Since the STOP (Services, Training, Officers, Prosecutors) program began in 1995, the states have made great strides in implementing their own strategies for helping victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Statistics on arrests, prosecution, and other justice system activities are beginning to show the impact of these changes stimulated by STOP.

STOP subgrantees perceive that their STOP funding has helped communities make significant strides in all three areas of violence against women. Most subgrantees emphasize the importance of STOP funds to their progress, even when some also mention that they engage in other initiatives to reduce violence against women concurrently with their STOP projects. Many say they "could not have done it without STOP."

In many communities, STOP funding has also provided an incentive for agencies to work together to reduce violence against women. STOP funding has pushed communities in many states to find ways around seemingly insurmountable barriers; subgrantees have had to develop creative approaches to make collaboration a success. As a result of STOP, subgrantees have mapped out paths to or already arrived at real system change in their communities.

Despite significant achievements, many subgrantees noted during telephone surveys and site visits that the permanency of improvements in services for women victims of violence hinges on the continued receipt of funding. In their view, if funding decreased, they would lose the progress they have made using STOP funding in their ability to serve women victims of violence comprehensively. The validity of these observations is borne out by the experience of subgrantees that received one-time awards, especially nongovernmental victim service agencies. Most have not been able to maintain the gains they achieved through brief STOP funding.

The 6,527 subgrant awards reported to VAWO (Violence Against Women Office) through November 15, 1999, totaled $298.8 million dollars. Four-fifths of the subgrants (80 percent) provide direct service to victims, 75 percent increase the capacity of agencies receiving the subgrants, and 54 percent increase community capacity to serve women victims of violence. Fifty-one percent of the subgrants focus exclusively on domestic violence, 12 percent focus exclusively on sexual assault, 21 percent focus on both but not on stalking, and the rest report other combinations of focus on domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. With respect to VAWA's (Violence Against Women Act) authorized purpose area classifications, 68 percent of subgrants fall into victim services, 31 percent into training, 20 percent into special units, 15 percent into policy and procedure development, 12 percent into data/communication systems, 7 percent into stalking, and 3 percent into subgrants to Indian tribes from state allocations. Projects can be classified into more than one purpose area.

According to the subgrantees we interviewed during telephone surveys and site visits, victims are safer, better supported by their communities, and treated more uniformly and sensitively by first-response workers, among other benefits. Victims themselves, interviewed in focus groups during site visits to 16 states, generally supported these subgrantee perceptions. With regard to victims from underserved communities, subgrantees making a special effort to reach these communities reported significant increases in the people they have served. Thirty-six of the 44 private, nonprofit victim service agencies interviewed for the 1999 Underserved Survey reported numbers of domestic violence and/or sexual assault victims served annually by their agencies pre- and post-STOP. The number of domestic violence victims served annually increased for 29 of the 34 agencies providing domestic violence information. Twelve agencies increased services by more than 60 percent, eight agencies increased them more than 200 percent, and four provided domestic violence services for the first time. Similarly, the number of sexual assault victims served increased with STOP funding for 19 of the 22 agencies providing sexual assault data. Of these programs, nine increased victims served by more than 60 percent, five increased them by more than 100 percent, and four served sexual assault victims for the first time.

In addition to serving more victims, practitioners also reported that their jobs are easier now that they are working together with other agencies in their community and pooling their efforts on task forces and collaborative projects. In many areas, STOP projects are credited with introducing the idea of a service community. As a result of more coordinated and comprehensive services for victims, a number of subgrantees have seen more women victims of violence come forward to ask for assistance in their communities. Overall, the majority of those we interviewed indicated that through training, special units, policy and protocol development, and direct services to victims, STOP projects have improved the treatment of women victims of violence while simultaneously fostering cohesion among service communities across the country.

Performance information for 2,369 subgrants was received by November 15, 1999; only subgrants that have run for a year or more are expected to report performance information. Training projects comprise 1,272 of these; reports indicated 218,586 personnel were trained in 10,668 training sessions. The professionals that most frequently attended were law enforcement (38 percent of training projects) and private, nonprofit victim service (25 percent of training projects) personnel.

Special unit projects comprise 663 of the subgrants reporting performance data. Thirty percent created new units, 28 percent supported or expanded an existing special unit, and 6 percent supported specialized functions for one or more members of agencies too small to justify a special unit.

Performance related to policies, procedures, protocols, administrative orders, or service development is reported by 663 subgrants. New policies were developed by 58 percent of these policy projects, and 48 percent revised or expanded previous policies and procedures. Agencies most frequently involved in developing or revising policy were law enforcement (45 percent), prosecution (40 percent), and private, nonprofit victim service agencies (31 percent).

The subgrants that support data collection and communications projects (23 percent, or 540, of performance reports) address a wide variety of data/communication system types. Case tracking or record-keeping systems are by far the most common, supported by 60 percent of the data projects. Also relatively common are forms development or standardization projects, representing 32 percent of data projects.

Two-thirds of all subgrants in the SAPR (Subgrant Award and Performance Report) database (1,637) fell into the victim service purpose area. Projects offering direct services to victims offered one or more of the following: crisis counseling (70 percent), an in-person information and referral system (53 percent), follow-up contact with victims (51 percent), and criminal justice advocacy (51 percent). Slightly under half of subgrants offered either telephone contacts or crisis hotline counseling (48 percent and 47 percent, respectively). Thirty-eight percent supported projects operating shelters or safe houses, 36 percent assisted victims in filing compensation claims, and 33 percent offered emergency legal advocacy. Twenty-nine percent provided group treatment or support, while 22 percent gave emergency financial assistance.

Forty-four percent of projects (715) with performance data in the victim service purpose area said their STOP funding permits them to offer new types of services not previously available to victims, while 64 percent said they could now provide improved or enhanced services of a type they already offered. Forty-five percent are simply providing more of the same services that already existed. About half reported doing two or all three varieties of service expansion.

In terms of the population of victims these projects serve, 59 percent of the direct service projects helped the same groups of victims who already received services, while 79 percent reported being able to serve victims who would not have come to the program without the STOP project. Responses to these questions make clear that the resources of the STOP program are being used to offer more services to more women. Further, STOP has enabled violence against women programs to expand the types of services offered and reach many women who in the past would never have received help to deal with domestic violence or sexual assault.

Awareness is growing that the problem of violence against women is complex and requires comprehensive service responses involving agencies and services beyond the justice systems. A number of coordinated efforts have developed during the recent past, as some communities have moved beyond changes in individual agencies, usually those in the justice systems, to respond to domestic violence and sexual assault in a more comprehensive and coordinated way. Many of the early efforts focused on coordination among agencies within the criminal justice system, or between these agencies and victim service providers. In recent years, however, some communities have expanded their efforts to include a broader array of agencies and stakeholders, such as health care providers, child welfare agencies, substance abuse services, clergy, and businesses. Some communities have gone a step further and worked to involve the community as a whole in responding to violence against women through prevention and education efforts aimed at raising community awareness and reshaping attitudes about this issue.

A full coordinated community response (CCR) to either domestic violence or sexual assault is a complex set of interagency relationships, interlocking individual behaviors, and commitment. It does not happen in a day, or even in a few months, and it is difficult to maintain without the steady attention and support of at least one person who is paid to serve as coordinator or facilitator. This evaluation team's experience of site visits over the past four years to 16 states and more than 80 STOP subgrantees convinces us that the overall goals of VAWA—to enhance women's well-being and hold perpetrators accountable—are maximally realized when a coordinated community response is in place.

In reviewing the programs across the country that stand out as having accomplished the goals of STOP, several key elements emerge. It seems clear that the truly effective programs have indeed transformed the way the criminal justice system handles domestic violence and/or sexual assault victims in their communities. The lessons learned from observing these programs may guide us in developing more comprehensive domestic violence and sexual assault services across the country. Two critical lessons are:

  • There must be solid working relationships among all the players: law enforcement, prosecution, nonprofit victim service agencies, any victim witness assistance units that exist, and the medical establishment (for sexual assault). There must be a willingness to work together on every case unless there is a compelling reason not to, and participating agencies must develop and adopt protocols requiring them to contact the appropriate partner agencies in response to every call.
  • Protocol development must be a cross-disciplinary process from beginning to end. Law enforcement, medical personnel, and victim service providers should be on the team developing the prosecution protocol, and the same cross-disciplinary representation should be applied to developing protocols for law enforcement, victim services, and medical services. This does not mean that other disciplines are asked to review a draft protocol once members of the discipline have written it; that strategy often leads to turf battles and defensiveness about ideas for improving "our" protocol. Rather, everyone needs to sit down together and understand how the actions of one agency depend on or are critical to the success of another agency. Then procedures to ensure the greatest possible coordination of operations can be written into official protocols. This takes longer up front, because each group must work through issues of territoriality, understanding each other's professional language, and understanding each other's roles and responsibilities. But it is actually more efficient in the long run than sending each discipline off to write its own protocol. Less controversy and fewer difficulties arise with implementation after protocol development, because the necessary cross-agency interactions and interdependencies will of necessity be considered and strategies will be developed to handle them; every agency contributes some changes in its own attitudes as well as procedures to make the whole system work better as a system.
  • States fund a number of programs addressing underserved populations. All states fund a mix of programs in rural, urban, and suburban areas, with some having special emphasis on rural programming. Many states added new services to rural areas or implemented satellite services in isolated areas for the first time as a result of STOP funding. One state initially funded only rural services with STOP money, thinking those women had long been neglected within the state. In later years of STOP funding, they opened up the eligibility to services across the whole state, regardless of geographic location.

    Some states specifically fund special outreach and service efforts toward groups that have not been served adequately by mainstream services. These groups include elderly women, specific racial/ethnic minorities, women with mental health and/or substance abuse disorders, and lesbian and bisexual women. These programs increase women's knowledge about the services available to them and provide services tailored to meet the unique needs of the group of interest. For many agencies, STOP funding made it possible to address these underserved populations formally for the first time. Many of the efforts, however, are funded at low levels and with no assurance of continued funding, creating issues related to the scope of services available and the sustainability of such efforts.

    The most common barriers reported for the populations of interest to these "underserved" programs were inadequacy of available services, norms or beliefs that inhibit women's willingness to access services, and insufficient means to access services. Across all categories of programs, the most frequently cited barriers to services for underserved populations were:

  • Language barriers,

  • Lack of culturally appropriate or problem-specific services,

  • Social tolerance of violence in families,

  • Importance of the family and/or women not wanting to leave their families,

  • Distrust or fear of the "system,"

  • Geographic isolation from the community and any available services,

  • Lack of transportation, and

  • Poverty and/or no independent source of income.
  • The major findings of this evaluation with respect to sexual assault as a part of the STOP program are: (1) sexual assault receives less attention, less money, and less independence than domestic violence; (2) when STOP funds have been devoted to sexual assault, most states visited have used them to expand specific services for sexual assault victims, not to develop coordinated community responses; (3) STOP has had only limited impact in building coordinated community responses and changing the way most communities respond to sexual assault in the 16 states we visited; (4) in contrast to the general findings, STOP funds have been used to establish collaborative sexual assault response teams in a very small number of communities, with results reported to be "phenomenal"; (5) STOP funds have supported improved forensic evidence collection for sexual assault cases through several approaches; (6) service providers report continuing problems with mechanisms to pay for forensic medical examinations in most states and localities visited; and (7) statewide sexual assault coalitions now exist in some states where there were none prior to STOP, and where they exist, they make a difference.

    These generalizations were already emerging as findings after the first three years of research activity on this evaluation. However, to allow sufficient time for sexual assault programming to develop (if it was going to happen), researchers decided to wait several more years before drawing conclusions. Those years have now passed, and initial impressions have been consistently supported by later investigation.

    VAWA specifically identifies stalking as one of the seven purpose areas within which states should target STOP funding efforts, as well as one of the three crimes about which the legislation is concerned. Since STOP funding became available, however, few states have focused their efforts on issues related to stalking. Only eight states included stalking in their initial implementation plans, and stalking is the crime that receives the least amount of attention from STOP-funded activities, with only 7 percent of STOP subgrants citing stalking as a purpose area.

    Part of the reason that stalking has received less attention then domestic violence and sexual assault is because stalking cases are particularly problematic to deal with—law enforcement and prosecution have a difficult time following, investigating, and obtaining convictions in such cases. Some promising approaches to handling stalking cases have been developed, however, in special law enforcement and prosecution units.

    STOP funding plays an important role in ensuring a response to stalking and aid to its victims. Often STOP-funded projects fill a critical link in the justice system–victim service network and complement other, locally funded initiatives. In some jurisdictions, STOP-funded stalking projects are the starting point from which other initiatives may develop. Indeed, without many of these projects, stalking victims would have nowhere to go for help.

    More is needed, however. A critical starting point would be to focus on increasing awareness among the state grantees about the prevalence of stalking offenses, their seriousness, and the existence of many programs that can be used as models for emulation. The only state that has targeted a funding initiative is California, and that initiative used the experiences in Los Angeles and San Diego as a guide. The California initiative was limited, however, to prosecution agencies and was, as a practical matter, limited to larger counties that can support a special stalking unit. Other approaches are needed for smaller jurisdictions and for law enforcement agencies. A noticeable and needed emphasis among the existing stalking projects is an emphasis on training and community education. A large proportion of the STOP stalking grants have gone to such projects, and a considerable amount of operational (nontraining) projects' energies are directed at training law enforcement personnel and community education. Only a few projects are directed at training prosecutors, however. Any future STOP initiative must include criminal justice training and community education as important components of an overall community initiative against stalking.

    When all of STOP funding is considered together over the fiscal years for which we have adequate information (FY 1995 through FY 1998), the 25 percent distributional requirement is met only for the victim services funding category, which receives from 41 percent to 25 percent of STOP funding, depending on how one defines the funding category. Prosecution receives 22 percent of the funds reported on SAPRs in the database, regardless of how the category is defined, while law enforcement receives 22 percent of reported STOP funds when the state-assigned funding category is used as the criterion and 16 percent of STOP funds when the type of agency receiving the subgrant is used as the criterion. With sufficient time now elapsed since the STOP program began to feel confident that observations reflect reality, the evidence shows that states continue to fall short of the legislative requirement to devote 25 percent of STOP funds to both law enforcement and prosecution. Only 16 states or territories (out of 56) meet the requirement to devote 25 percent of STOP funds to prosecution, and only 12 do so for law enforcement. In contrast, 43 states meet the requirement for victim services.

    State STOP agencies should apply some of the lessons learned in efforts to develop victim service programs to increase the number, size, and quality of law enforcement and prosecution projects. Primary among these lessons is the utility of engaging a statewide organization (coalition, professional association, etc.) to design and organize projects and to stimulate and assist local agencies to write STOP proposals to adapt them, get trained to conduct them, and join in project development with other similarly placed agencies throughout the state.

    States follow similar processes for distributing STOP grants but vary a great deal in: (a) when they begin and end these activities; (b) how they carry them out; and (c) the time that it takes to complete them. For the most part, the award process in each state includes the same steps subsequent to receiving notice of their award from VAWO: planning, sending out requests for proposals (RFPs), assessing proposals, notifying applicants of awards, and disbursing funds.

    States are on very different timeliness—and have been from the beginning of STOP. For instance, the first state to begin planning for FY 1995 did so in August 1994 (even before the VAWA legislation passed), while the last state to begin planning for FY 1995 did so in September 1996—a span of two years and one month. The first state to begin each activity for FY 1997 did so before all or even 80 percent of states had completed that same activity for FY 1996.

    The variety in state timeliness is especially apparent in sending out RFPs. The last state to send out RFPs for FY 1995 funding did so at the same time that the first state sent out RFPs for FY 1997 funds. It appears that some states have become quite efficient at awarding funds, while others are still struggling to make timely awards.

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