Sequestration cuts threaten to undermine VAWA programs

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Sequestration cuts five percent from all federal programs, regardless of intent or efficacy, including VAWA and FVPSA. This will have devastating consequences for women and children who must daily face the crimes of domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. VAWA is the single reliable source of funding toward the prevention of domestic violence. Domestic violence is far too prevalent – one in four women experiences domestic violence in her lifetime – and yet, private foundations don’t see it as a priority when determining their philanthropic intentions. Less than one percent of philanthropic support goes toward programs that address violence.
 
In the wake of the recent Steubenville verdict, let’s consider the Rape Prevention and Education Program (RPE), one of VAWA’s most crucial components. According to statistics gathered by RAINN (Rape, Incest, and Abuse National Network), an American is sexually assaulted every two minutes – the RPE supports the work of rape crisis centers and sexual assault coalitions across America, and a five percent cut translates to a loss of $2 million to those services. This in turn translates to 125,000 fewer school and college students receiving information about rape and sexual abuse prevention; 15,000 fewer rape hotline calls answered; and 7,000 fewer professionals trained in identifying sexual violence issues.

Not only do such losses represent the very height of cruelty and insensitivity, they also represent financial folly. Annual victim costs for rape are estimated at $127 billion – and this doesn’t include the costs of child sexual abuse. Simply put, rape is the most costly of all crimes. Saving money by not funding prevention and intervention is an abandonment of American women at a time of almost incalculable vulnerability, and will ultimately cost this country more than it saves.
 
This is equally true for cuts to programs that target intimate partner abuse: Domestic violence directly impacts one in four women and 15.5 million children every year; an average of three American women are killed every day by a current or former intimate partner.
 
According to Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), federal government agencies, and the Campaign for Funding to End Domestic and Sexual Violence, sequestration will result in at least 106,020 fewer victims receiving lifesaving services -- some 70,120 victims won’t have access to domestic violence programs and shelters, and another 35,900 won’t get assistance in obtaining protection orders, crisis intervention and counseling, and other critical help.
 
And in spite of what some in Washington would have Americans believe, private philanthropy just doesn’t make up the difference. These are challenging, thorny, and painful issues – it can be difficult to draw donors, simply because the problems themselves are so ugly. For government to leave the well-being of millions of women and children to the vagaries of private charity is a flagrant abdication of duty to some of our most vulnerable citizens.
 
The passage of VAWA in 1994 represented a sea change in American culture. For the first time in history, our government acknowledged the pernicious and insidious nature of gender-based violence, and took real action to provide aid and comfort to victims, while also acting to change the reality that allows such crimes to occur.
 
Since that time, survivors of domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking have had unprecedented access to services that enable them to escape abuse, protect their children, heal from assault, and rebuild their lives. In 2012 alone, VAWA-funded programs provided lifesaving help to three-quarters of a million victims of gender-based violence.
 
Sequestration threatens to undo these gains for far too many women. Without the effective law enforcement and prosecution that VAWA makes possible, abusers are more likely to become repeat offenders; without programs like transitional housing and legal services, many victims have no alternative to staying with their partner, and are thus at an increased risk for homicide.
 
For the tens of thousands of women who will be hurt by these cuts, there is simply no alternative. Every day that Congress delays its response to sequestration is a day that proves harmful, even deadly, for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
 
Our elected representatives have a duty to serve all Americans, but particularly those who are most vulnerable. No political in-fighting can excuse inaction when so many lives are at stake. We urge Congress to act with all haste to resolve the sequestration, and restore the funding so necessary to the Violence Against Women Act.
 
Weinstein is executive director of Jewish Women International.