Last week, as #WhyIStayed was trending on Twitter, we were reminded of the barriers that millions of domestic violence victims face every year. This social media trend and recent events with high profile perpetrators tells us that the threat of domestic violence is real, life-threatening and insidious. In fact, every day in this country, an average of three women are killed by a current or former intimate partner. The answer to “#WhyIStayed” is often “I was afraid and I didn’t have anywhere to go.”
For over a million victims, the federal government’s response to domestic violence has been part of the reason “WhyILeft.”
The challenge is that for too many women and children, #WhyIStayed is only a moment in popular culture. What happens when that moment passes?
The 1984 Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA), which will be considered for reauthorization by Congress next year, provides support to over 1,500 local domestic violence shelters and programs. In 2011, over 1 million survivors and their children were helped by FVPSA-funded programs providing emergency shelter, counseling, legal assistance, child care, job readiness and financial education. If shelters did not exist, the consequences would be dire, from homelessness to continued abuse, or even death. Yet many of these lifesaving programs struggle to keep their doors open.
On October 9, 2014, during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I and others who care deeply about this issue and believe we all have a responsibility to help, will celebrate FVPSA’s 30th anniversary. We will celebrate the countless lives saved and transformed by this cornerstone of the federal government’s response to domestic violence. We will also call upon our leaders to help fulfill the promise of FVPSA.
With the current state of the economy and after years of sustained cuts to government and private funding, victim service agencies strain to handle the increased workload as more victims with fewer resources seek assistance. In just one day, on September 13, 2013, our 24-hour National Census reported that 66,581 domestic violence victims and their children received essential services ranging from shelter to counseling to medical advocacy. However, on that same day, 9,641 requests for services went unmet due to lack of resources. In the preceding year, 1,696 staff had been laid off or positions left unfilled, and hundreds of programs had to reduce or eliminate vital services due to funding cuts. This gap between available resources and desperate need cannot continue to increase. Increased federal investment in these programs is needed for the survival of those who have suffered needlessly from domestic violence.
Victims who are beaten, raped, abused, stalked and threatened by their intimate partners need to be able to escape to a safe place. It’s unconscionable that in 2014, survivors can answer #WhyIStayed with #TheShelterWasFull.
What we’d like to see trend is #HowIHelped – and for that trend to reach Capitol Hill.
FVPSA is woefully underfunded and has remained stagnant for many years. It has certainly not kept up with the need nor the increasing costs of providing services. This year’s appropriation is $40 million under FVPSA $175 million authorization. Next year, Congress must fully fund FVPSA at $175 million and reauthorize the law with even more funding to ensure that programs have the resources to help those who are in crisis. Do they need more evidence that domestic violence is real than the videos we’ve seen play over and over again in the last few weeks? What more will it take to say that we will help?
Increased investment in FVPSA is not simply a budget decision. It’s the difference between life and death for women and children – who live here in the United States – and live with domestic violence. We are counting on Congress to turn their righteous indignation about domestic violence into pathways to safety for victims of domestic violence.
#HowIHelped can start with investment in FVPSA and support those who need our help – and who might live next door.
Gandy is the president and CEO of the National Network To End Domestic Violence and the organizing host of the Chefs Take a Stand to End Domestic Violence event on October 9 in Washington, DC. For more information, visit nnedv.org/chefsevent.