Services Provided to Victims of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, Dating Violence, and Stalking

GAO-07-846R: Published: Jul 19, 2007. Publicly Released: Jul 19, 2007.

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Eileen R. Larence
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Historically, domestic violence, sexual assaults, and stalking incidents have often been ignored by society and treated as private family matters. However, in 1984, Congress passed and the President signed the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA) to, among other things, help prevent domestic violence and provide shelter and related assistance for victims. Grants funded under the act are administered by the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Administration for Children and Families and are available to states, Indian tribal governments and organizations, state domestic violence coalitions, and public and private nonprofit entities. In response to continued concerns about domestic violence as well as sexual assault and stalking incidents, Congress passed and the President signed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 1994. VAWA created new federal criminal laws and established additional grant programs within HHS and the Department of Justice (DOJ) for state, local, and Indian tribal governments and nonprofit organizations. These grant programs have various purposes, such as providing funding for direct services including emergency shelter, counseling, and legal services for victims of domestic violence, sexual assaults, and stalking across all segments of the population. The Violence Against Women and DOJ Reauthorization Act of 2005, enacted January 5, 2006, requires us to conduct a study and report on data indicating the prevalence of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking among men, women, youth, and children; to survey DOJ, as well as any recipients of federal funding, to identify what services are provided to victims of these crimes; and to report on whether the services are made available to men, women, youth, and children, as well as the number, age, and gender of victims receiving each available service. This report responds to the segment of the mandate related to victim services. This report presents the results of our efforts to address the following questions: (1) What types of data have grant recipients collected and reported to HHS and DOJ related to services provided under these grant programs to victims, specifically data by type of service on the extent to which men, women, youth, and children receive each service? and (2) What challenges, if any, do federal departments report that they and their grant recipients would face in collecting and reporting information on the demographic characteristics of victims receiving services by type of service, if they currently do not do so?

Recipients of the 11 grant programs we reviewed currently collect and report data to the respective agencies on the types of services they provide, such as counseling, the total number of victims served, and in some cases, demographic information, such as the age of victims; however, data are not available on the extent to which men, women, youth, and children receive each type of service for all services. This situation occurs primarily because the statutes governing these programs do not require the collection of such data. The agencies administering these 11 grant programs collect some demographic data for certain services, such as emergency shelter under FVPSA and supervised visitation and exchange under VAWA. However, even if demographic data were available by type of service for all services, such data might not be uniform and reliable because (1) the authorizing statutes and resulting reporting requirements for the 11 grant programs differ; (2) Administration for Children and Families (ACF) has not developed a standard form for its grant recipients to use in collecting and reporting data, and its grant recipients have not always collected and reported data for consistent time periods; (3) grant recipient officials assigned to manage FVPSA programs have experienced high turnover resulting in a loss of program knowledge; and (4) recipients of grants administered by all three agencies use varying data collection practices. HHS has efforts under way to improve the uniformity and reliability of data collection efforts, but does not anticipate full implementation of these efforts until fiscal year 2010. HHS and DOJ reported that they would face significant challenges in collecting and reporting data on the demographic characteristics of victims receiving services by type of service for all services funded by the 11 grant programs included in our review because of concerns about victims' confidentiality and safety, resource constraints, overburdening recipients, and technological issues. ACF officials also said that some of their grant recipients do not have the resources to devote to these data collection efforts, since their primary focus is on service delivery. In addition, ACF officials said that being too prescriptive in requiring demographic data could overburden some grant recipients that may report data to multiple funding entities, such as federal, state, and local entities and private foundations. Furthermore, all three agencies reported that some grant recipients do not have sophisticated data collection systems in place to allow them to collect additional information.

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