Written by Denisse Vega Zarate

Survivors become leaders. As I reflect on my experience at Policy Advocacy Day 2024, I am inspired by the work of survivors who made this event possible. “As a survivor myself” is a phrase that I heard many times during the event from various leaders and speakers who have become advocates for other survivors. This is why it is crucial to invest in crime victim services; survivors become fierce leaders who work tirelessly to end the cycle of violence.  

Organized by ValorUS and the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence (CPEDV), Policy Advocacy Day 2024 brought together advocates from all over California to the state Capitol to demand our representatives to put survivors first and protect crime victim services. The purpose of our legislative meetings was to address the 44.7% reduction in federal funding for crime victim services (VOCA). We asked legislators to support a $200 million budget request, as well as Assembly Bills 1956 (Reyes) and 2432 (Gabriel), which would provide short-term and long-term solutions to VOCA cuts.

ValorUS and CPEDV, also known as the Partnership, constantly reminded us of our power and the importance of our work. At the rally, we got to hear powerful testimonies from various speakers who shared their experiences as survivors and how the services that organizations like ours provide saved them. It was empowering to be alongside courageous advocates from different organizations and be reminded of our expertise in survivors’ services. ValorUS and the Partnership encouraged us to go into our legislative meetings to voice our demands and teach legislators about our work.  

I observed this dynamic in our legislative meetings; we were the experts sharing important information to emphasize why California must protect survivors. For instance, during our visit with Senator Marie Alvarado-Gil (District 4), we educated her staff on the challenges we see for survivors. As an organization that serves domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking victims, Sierra Community House advocated for crime victims and shared stories from our community to illustrate how the work that we do is vital. Without VOCA funding, who would a human trafficking survivor call past midnight to ask for assistance relocating to a safe place? Where would a domestic violence survivor in Truckee go when they are ready to leave their abuser? VOCA funding, as Jay Espinoza from the Los Angeles LGBT Center expressed, “makes the difference between life and death.” 

The event was also a healing and cathartic experience for advocates. Chanting “Si Se Puede!” outside the Capitol, holding signs, and screaming our demands brought a sense of comradery. It was inspiring to see people get excited to scream we will not allow survivors to carry the burden of “a tough budget year” and be surrounded by advocates who bring the same energy to protect survivors. We got to experience the event with amazing colleagues from organizations like WEAVE, Stand Up Placer, and Lideres Campesinas, which highlighted the importance of working together and building community to create change. As Sen. Susan Rubio reminded us, the trauma that survivors experience is not individual but collective as it affects their families and communities. Therefore, it is also a communal responsibility to advocate for survivors’ services.  

So far, more than ten legislators have signed up to the budget request, evidencing the power of a movement for survivors led by survivors.  

To contact your representatives, click here.