New York State Office of Victim Services Partners with State University of New York to Expand the "SUNY's Got Your Back" Comfort Bag Program
Investment Will Result in Distribution of 225,000 Comfort Bags Providing Personal Care Items and Victim Service Information to Medical Providers, Rape Crisis Programs and Domestic Violence Shelters
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced $5 million in funding through the state Office of Victim Services that will allow the State University of New York to supply and distribute 225,000 comfort bags to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence seeking help at hospitals, shelters and rape crisis centers across the state. The funding will continue and expand the "SUNY'S Got Your Back" program, which has provided roughly 25,000 bags to victims throughout the state in the last three years -- each containing essential personal care items and vital information about the services available to them.
"This unique partnership has brought support to tens of thousands of victims while spreading awareness of sexual assault and domestic violence on SUNY campuses statewide," Governor Cuomo said. "With additional investments to bolster this initiative, we can continue to help survivors while working to end the cycle of sexual assault and violence that affects so many New Yorkers."
"These bags provide survivors with a small degree of immediate comfort during an incredibly stressful time," said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who made today's announcement. "More importantly, however, these bags contain the information victims can use to find support, security and reach services that can help them with recovery in the short-term and long-term."
The Office of Victim Services is providing the funding to SUNY over three years from money received through the federal Victims of Crime Act. The funding will enable SUNY to purchase supplies for the bags and coordinate volunteers across the state to assemble them, including faculty, staff and students on each of its 64 campuses. The Office of Victim Services also will work with SUNY to forge partnerships with organizations that assist underserved populations, including the LGBTQI+ community, individuals with disabilities and the homeless, so they participate in the program with the goal of raising awareness about the resources available for all victims.
SUNY will also use the funding to develop a distribution database that will help direct the bags to rape crisis programs, domestic violence shelters, and hospitals, and collect non-personally identifiable information - such as gender, age, race and ethnicity - to track who is receiving the bags and identify where victims are underserved. This partnership will build on the success of New York's "Enough is Enough" law, championed by Governor Cuomo in 2015 and the strongest law in the nation to combat sexual assault on college campuses.
Lieutenant Governor Hochul announced the partnership this afternoon at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn. In making the announcement, the Lieutenant Governor also urged victims of sexual assault to seek timely medical care for their physical and emotional well-being, regardless of whether they are prepared to report the crime to police.
Earlier this 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.
Each comfort bag contains personal essential hygiene products to assist victims with self-care -- soap, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a comb and deodorant -- a pen, notepad, a stress ball and an affirming message from a volunteer. Critically, the bags also contain information about available support services and educational materials intended to alert victims of their rights under state law. By enlisting the help of students to assemble the bags, the program will also help to raise awareness on SUNY campuses of sexual assault and domestic violence issues.
Office of Victim Services Director Elizabeth Cronin said, "As an agency, we are committed to helping all innocent victims of crime, especially those from typically underserved populations. This partnership provides us with an excellent opportunity to not only provide short-term relief to the victims of sexual assault and interpersonal violence, but to spread the word of the existence of many programs and avenues of support that are available to them to become survivors."
SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson said, "SUNY's educational programming to prevent sexual and interpersonal violence on our campuses has become a national model for universities across the nation. The 'SUNY's Got Your Back' program is a way of extending our impact beyond our campus walls. Over the past 28 months, SUNY has assembled and provided 25,000 comfort bags for survivors of sexual and interpersonal violence at hospitals, shelters, and rape crisis centers. We are thankful to the Office of Victim Services for their ongoing partnership and generous grant to dramatically increase this healing community service."
SUNY's Title IX Coordinators launched the program in 2016 in partnership with the state coalitions against domestic violence and sexual assault, and the New York State Police. The initiative was expanded later that year with a $10,000 donation from the PGA TOUR, which also enlisted volunteers to help assemble the bags during its golf tournament on Long Island. The PGA TOUR's involvement continued at tournaments in 2017 and again last month, when volunteers from state agencies and the Governor's Office helped assemble roughly 5,000 bags at the competition in Endicott.
Congresswoman Nita Lowey said, "Sexual assault is plaguing our society, with more offenses coming to light day after day. In what may be their greatest time of need, victims of sexual assault deserve to be treated with the utmost respect, and to be given the support and resources they need in the aftermath. These comfort bags have the potential to make a real difference in someone's life. I applaud Governor Cuomo for funding this initiative and for standing up for women and victims of sexual and domestic violence all across New York."
Congressman José E. Serrano said, "New York has made it clear that sexual assault and domestic violence will not be tolerated, and under the Governor's leadership, we are making significant strides to continue to provide resources and services that help survivors in every corner of this state. SUNY has done a phenomenal job educating students and transforming college communities for the better by implementing programs that build awareness within all populations. I thank Governor Cuomo for investing in these efforts and for standing with survivors everywhere."
Congresswoman Grace Meng said, "Victims of sexual assault and domestic violence often feel lost, not knowing where to turn for help. These comfort bags provide more than just toiletries—which are essential for individuals who lack the option to return to the comfort of their own home—they provide critical information to assist victims as they seek to rebuild their lives. I commend the Governor for allotting state funds to support such a worthy investment, and for fighting for equality and for the rights of New York's women."
SUNY Project Coordinator Joseph Storch said, "When we conceived of this program, we set the goal of assembling 2,016 bags in the year 2016. But with the leadership of our students, Title IX Coordinators, and so many campus and community partners, SUNY's Got Your Back has shattered all expectations. We are humbled by the support and confidence of the Office of Victim Services in supporting SUNY's expansion of this program and look forward to working towards a New York where comfort bags for survivors of violence are no longer necessary."
SUNY Downstate Medical Center President Dr. Wayne J. Riley said, "As medical professionals, we understand environmental factors often make it challenging for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault to receive the help they need. At SUNY Downstate, we take our responsibility seriously in connecting with our unique population in a way that fosters a safe and healthy community. The support of Lt. Governor Hochul and Chancellor Johnson is crucial to ensuring that SUNY Downstate can educate our community members and empower them to seek the help they need. I commend Governor Cuomo's advocacy on behalf of domestic violence and sexual assault victims."
Domestic violence occurs in communities both large and small and affects New Yorkers from all walks of life. In 2017, there were more than 23,000 victims of intimate partner violence reported in New York City, and approximately 30,000 reported in counties outside of the metropolitan area. Courts in New York State entered more than 183,000 temporary orders of protection into the Domestic Violence Registry last year; about 49,000 of these became final orders of protection. Domestic violence and sexual assault hotlines in New York State received more than 369,000 calls last year alone.
State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence Executive Director Gwen Wright said, "Providing any small measure of support to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault is a crucial first step toward supporting their process of healing and survival. This program can help provide that support while raising awareness about these issues and the devastating effects they have on all individuals, families, and communities. Our partnership with SUNY represents the collaborative statewide response to domestic violence and sexual assault and highlights Governor Cuomo's ongoing commitment to prioritize the safety of all New Yorkers."
Governor Cuomo has made protecting victims of domestic violence and sexual assault a priority during his time in office. New York adopted legislation to remove guns from domestic abusers, closing a loophole in state law by ensuring that all firearms - not just handguns - are surrendered by individuals convicted of domestic violence-related offenses.
The Governor also initiated a statewide review of all colleges and universities to ensure they fulfill their obligations under the law to protect students from sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking. Completed last year, the review found that the majority of campuses in the state were significantly compliant with requirements of the "Enough Is Enough" law.
Last year, the Governor announced nearly $6.5 million in grants was made available to benefit 55 state-approved anti-sexual assault crisis and prevention programs operated by hospitals, non-profit organizations and governmental agencies statewide. The grants funded a variety of existing programs, including 24-hour crisis hotlines, crisis counseling, trauma therapy, referrals to support services for both victims and their families, training for advocates, court accompaniment for victims and criminal justice advocacy.
In 2016, shortly after the "SUNY's Got Your Back" initiative began, the Governor announced a statewide partnership between the PGA tour and SUNY to support victims of assault through the program. The partnership resulted in 5,000 comfort bags, totally 9,000 bags within the first few months of the initiative.
The New York State Domestic & Sexual Violence Hotline (1-800-942-6906) offers help and information 24 hours a day in English, Spanish and other languages. Individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing can call 711. New York State also supports and funds community-based programs to assist victims of domestic and sexual violence and other crimes, including these Domestic Violence Resources, a network of victim assistance programs funded by the state Office of Victim Services, and Sexual Assault and Violence Response (SAVR) Resources—a multi-lingual resource created by SUNY to support SUNY students or any New Yorker in need of information and support.
The Office of Victim Services provides a safety net for crime victims and/or their family members, compensating 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 State University of New York is the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the United States, with 64 college and university campuses located within 30 miles of every home, school, and business in the state. SUNY students and faculty across the state make significant contributions to research and discovery, resulting in $1 billion of externally sponsored activity each year. There are 3 million SUNY alumni worldwide, and one in three New Yorkers with a college degree is a SUNY alum.
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