Her mother was a champion for battered women, and pushed to change laws in New York to support survivors, rather than the perpetrators of violence.
At age 70, the lieutenant governor’s mother opened Kathleen Mary House, a Buffalo-based domestic violence shelter at the site of a former funeral home.
“We all got involved,” Hochul said. “We made the attic into a learning lab.”
Her mother’s efforts sparked the lieutenant governor’s advocacy for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence today. Hochul said she has visited nearly 40 campuses, gathering information about college sexual assaults.
Last Wednesday, Hochul joined state education officials at SUNY Downstate Medical School to announce a $5 million investment into a program that provides comfort bags for survivors of sexual and interpersonal violence.
Launched in 2016, the SUNY’s Got Your Back Initiative began as a year-long project to assemble 2,016 bags, each one containing personal care items and information about services available to victims.
The initiative quickly spread to all 64 campuses in the state university system. Today, more than 23,500 bags have been put together.
The $5 million grant, which partners SUNY with the state Office of Victim Services (OVS), will help supply and distribute 225,000 bags over three years at hospitals, shelters and rape crisis centers across the state.
The funding will also allow SUNY to create a distribution database by collecting and tracking information about who is receiving the bags and which populations may be underserved.
“I understand what something like this can do for someone who is at the depths of despair,” Hochul said, “and looking for someone to just have their back.”
Elizabeth Cronin, director of OVS, said the state office acts as a “safety net” for victims. The office provides financial compensation for survivors, funds community-based victim advocacy programs, covers the cost of a forensic rape exam, and even pay for lifetime counseling if necessary.
“We are able to fund counseling and medical expenses for victims for as long as they need the services,” Cronin said. “As we all know, victims heal on their own schedule.
“The may, at certain times, need help, and at other times, they dont,” she added. “It is up to them to know when the right time is and we will be there for them.”
Cronin said victims may not know about all of the services available to them, so OVS has to do more to reach them and improve access to programs. She noted that victims will receive treatment –– including a free forensic rape exam –– regardless of whether or not they want to report a crime.
“It’s important for victims to know that because I’m afraid a lot of victims will not go to the hospital because they’re afraid law enforcement will be called, and they don’t feel they’re in a position to make that decision,” Cronin said. “This way, their health is addressed, and any evidence is preserved.”
SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson said that the $5 million allocation is the largest grant the state university system has ever received. Judging by the success of the SUNY’s Got Your Back Initiative so far, she knew it was going to be a multi-year campaign, rather than a one-year program.
“It’s not just what’s in the bags,” Johnson said. “It’s the learning of people like all of us, putting together the bag. We learn where the resources are, and we can step up.
“When people receive a bag, they know someone cares,” she added. “It is indeed on all of us to be there for one another.”