Ohio’s lawmakers are pushing for changes to Ohio’s crime victim fund

Two lawmakers from Ohio doubt that the money from Ohio’s crime victim fund is making its way to victims of sexual assault on children.

Managed by the attorney general’s office, Ohio Crime Victims Compensation Program grants victims of violent crime up to $50,000 in order to pay costs out of pocket, such as mental and medical care. The most recent fiscal year of the program handed more than $6 million to victims.

However, two Democratic lawmakers began to doubt the way it was dealt with after Republican attorney general Dave Yost got a judge to restore Ohio’s six-week abortion ban. Two weeks later, the judge question the initial reports that a rape victim aged 10 had left Ohio to have an abortion.

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“These awards are given upon the decision of the attorney general” Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan (D-Youngstown) declared. “He may actually put certain aspects of his political agenda into this and not consider the victim’s real need.”

Lepore-Hagan as well as Rep. Tavia Galonski (D-Akron) have introduced legislation to pressure Yost to take action faster. But Yost’s office is saying that the bill won’t affect any of the laws.

Ohio's lawmakers are pushing for changes to Ohio's crime victim fund

Bill proposes $2,000 in speedy funding for child sex abuse victims

Lepore-Hagan as well as Galonski Galonski introduced House Bill 732. This is also known as the Protect Child Victims Act, to allow attorneys general accelerate some of the funds through giving victims of child sexual abuse who are in need of immediate assistance up to $2,000 worth of “emergency awards” the money Lepore-Hagan said should be used to pay for abortions as well.

“We must do all we can in our capacity as Democrats within the Ohio General Assembly, to safeguard victims, and to help those who need the government to support them, and also to provide a security net that they need,” she added.

Contrary to the 120-day period that the attorney general must look into a claim that is not urgent and emergency applications have to be dealt with in just two weeks, Columbus-based victim’s rights lawyer Michael Falleur said.

In the event that the Attorney General is of the opinion that the child “will be suffering from hardships in the event that immediate relief from economic hardship is not sought,” the emergency $2,000 award can be granted and then followed by additional money if required.

“I do not have enough money to pay rent; I’m not able to keep my utilities on” Falleur said as an instance of a person who might be eligible for an emergency grant. “That’s when we could tell you, ‘Send us your notice of disconnection or eviction notice. And the office of the attorney general is the only one who can decide whether you’ll be an award in the future.”

Victims of child sex abuse comprised about 10 percent of 2021’s claimed claims that were approved.

Bethany McCorkle, a spokesperson for Yost’s office said the attorney general has already the power to grant the emergency money to victims of child sexual abuse which the bill proposes.

In fiscal year 2021 Yost’s office paid out more than $6 million from the $9.5 million fund for compensation, which included an average individual award of $3,388, according to the 2021 Crime Victims Annual Report. Out of the 1753 claims for compensation paidout, 147 claims (or 8.5 percent, were based on child sexual abuse, as the report shows.

“The team’s aim for the coming year is to increase the number of people across the state conscious of compensation programs as well as the assistance that is available,” Yost’s office said in its report to 2021.

The cost for a lifetime of rape is around 122,000 dollars per victim, if you take into account for medical expenses loss of work productivity Criminal justice expenses, and other expenses like property damage or loss according to an article from 2017 by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control report.

As per the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network 1 out of 9 girls and one out of 53 boys will suffer sexual abuse from an adult before the age of 18 birthday. RAINN says that victims of the abuse of children are 4 times more likely to develop substance use disorder or post-traumatic stress.

Lepore-Hagan explained that HB 732 was drafted to clarify who is eligible for emergency awards – and also to urge attorneys general to go in helping victims. The office of the attorney general is adamant that child sex abuse is as an “incident kind” which is eligible for compensation however, it’s not specified in Ohio laws governing emergency awards.

“This bill will actually define the emergency funds that are available for children victim of assault sexually,” she said. “It also creates the public’s attention so that they have the knowledge that these funds are accessible. … It’s another method of the government actively helping and providing assistance for children in need.”

Bill protects AG’s power to make the emergency award, lawyer states

Falleur stated that he’d love to have a little more teeth in HB 732. For instance, returning part of Ohio Court of Claims’ power in the matter. The bill states that the attorney general will have sole discretion in deciding whether to award the emergency funds and there’s no chance to appeal.

“To this extent 732 is nothing more than what’s in the statute,” Falleur said. “I do not think of the Yost administration ever coming up with an emergency need for this kind of financial assistance. It is possible that the Court of Claims may disagree when given the chance.”

The court was initially responsible for the program prior to its introduction, but in the year 2000 Falleur claimed that the program was transferred to the office of the attorney general. In his opinion, this change created a conflict of interest since it allows the attorney general – responsible for representing Ohio as a state Ohio in the state of Ohio – “too many different hats.”

“They’re required to arrive at an unbiased decision in terms of reimbursement, and also defend the fund that is administered by the state,” Falleur said. “How do you come to an objective decision in the event that you are one of the participants in an adversarial process? It’s just not possible.”

Modifying the language of the bill so that it reads, “the Attorney General shall issue an emergency award,” instead of “the Attorney General is authorized to make an emergency award” could make it more difficult for the office to issue compensation to more victims, the attorney general argued.

Are abortions covered by the victims compensation fund?

McCorkle did not specify if Yost allows a victim to utilize this compensation account to pay the cost of having an abortion. The office has represented victims of crime from the 1980s onwards, Falleur said the office paid for birthing costs and probably provided abortion services at some point in time, “but certainly not in the past 20 years, and certainly not after the attorney general was involved.”

Rep. Jeff Crossman (D-Parma) who is running against Yost in the race for attorney general said that if he is elected he would permit those who qualify to receive the emergency award that is being proposed to have an abortion.

“We shouldn’t demand minor children have a baby with children of rapists and accept it as the norm for the foreseeable future,” Crossman said. “These funds exist to provide medical care that women, young women as young as girls require and we must use these funds for this purpose.”