Maggie McArthur, a victim of domestic violence, speaks at a news conference at the State House in Augusta on Tuesday to support a bill that would provide state funding for programs that support victims of crime. The money would replace funds that Maine is losing from the federal government. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

AUGUSTA — Maggie McArthur was 23 years old when she left her abusive husband in 2008. Her sister drove her and her young son to the police station. She didn’t know what she was going to do.

She said meeting with a victim advocate saved her life. The advocate helped McArthur file a protection from abuse order, which they convinced a judge to extend for two years. They helped her find housing and develop a safety plan. They helped with her divorce.

“And if they couldn’t help, they found me the resources,” McArthur said Tuesday during a news conference in the Hall of Flags, where she stood with at least a hundred other survivors, advocates and state leaders asking the state to help fund victim support services. Some held hand-drawn signs. “Victims need services,” read one. “Ending violence begins with supporting survivors,” read another.

The state fund that helps people like McArthur stands to lose $5.8 million in federal funding this fall, according to victim advocacy organizations who say that loss would reduce their programs by 60%.

Victims of violent crimes in Maine can receive services through a number of domestic violence centers, through victim witness advocates in their local district attorneys’ offices, and through statewide providers like the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence and the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault.


Maine relies almost exclusively on funding from the federal Victims of Crimes Act to pay for victim support services.

The federal government disburses those so-called “VOCA” funds to Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services, which distributes the money. According to a department spokesperson, Maine was awarded $5.9 million in VOCA funds last year and the federal agency is predicting states will lose 41% this year, but an exact amount won’t be known until February.

VOCA funds have been declining for years, but DHHS has been able to stave off large cuts by tapping into funding left over from prior years.

But this year, there’s no more money left, said Sen. Anne Carney, D-Portland.

Sen. Anne Carney is sponsoring a bill to use state funding to supplement a fund for victims of violent crime. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Carney chairs the Judiciary Committee, which held a public hearing Tuesday afternoon on her bill to backfill the federal loss with $6 million in state dollars for the upcoming fiscal year.

Supporters filled every seat inside the small room where lawmakers listened to more than two hours of testimony from victim advocates and the people they have helped.


One woman said her local domestic violence resource center, Caring Unlimited in York County, helped her find transitional housing when she was leaving her abuser. Another woman said Safe Voices in Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties helped with legal paperwork. A woman in northern Maine said an advocate from Next Step Domestic Violence Project sat with her during her divorce trial and literally gave her shoes to stand in.

And many VOCA-supported advocates were there to help during Maine’s largest mass shooting in Lewiston last year.

Joanna Stokinger, a victim advocate who has helped victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and homicide throughout Maine since 2002, said she was in Lewiston on Oct. 25. In the following weeks, she said, she spent 12-16 hours a day helping families and survivors recover personal belongings from crime scenes. She attended funerals and coordinated with state officials as they investigated what had happened.

Stokinger is now an advocate with the Maine Resiliency Center, which was created to support those affected by the shooting in Lewiston. Her work has been paid for with VOCA money. So when she first began hearing about serious cuts last year, she said it was a “slap in the face.”

“I love my job,” Stokinger said. “But it’s always been hard. It has always been hard and it will continue to be hard.”

Lewiston Police Chief David St. Pierre testifies before the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday in support of a bill that would provide state funding for the Victims of Crimes Act fund, which has benefited many of the victims from October’s mass shooting in the city. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Lawmakers did not discuss or vote on the legislation Tuesday afternoon. They will likely have a work session to consider the bill at a later date.


A representative of DHHS was not at Tuesday’s hearing, but a spokesperson said in a statement the department is “committed to supporting services for victims.”

“While the Department is concerned about appropriating ongoing General Funds to make up for this shortfall in federal funding, we will do all we can to support victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, elder abuse, and other crimes,” spokesperson Lindsay Hammes wrote.

She said the inconsistent funding has fluctuated greatly in recent years.

Child advocacy centers, which work with children who have experienced abuse, would have to cut their staffing by at least half, Carney said. Emergency hotlines that help victims and their loved ones would also have to reduce staffing. Pine Tree Legal Aid, which represented more than 1,300 cases of sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking last year, would have to scale back its work.

The federal money also helps pay for victim witness advocates in the Office of the Maine Attorney General, who help families affected by homicide navigate the criminal justice system. They keep victims’ families apprised of upcoming court dates and prepare them to testify. They act as a liaison with prosecutors, the medical examiners’ offices and investigators.

Carney said she and others have reached out to federally elected officials to address shortfalls in federal VOCA funding, but it’s not clear when Congress will act.

“Today, these basic services are at risk,” Carney said. “L.D. 2084 would prevent the catastrophic cuts to victim services.”

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