This week, The Hill reported that the incoming Trump administration is looking to dramatically reduce federal spending. Of these spending cuts, funding for Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) grants was highlighted to be on the chopping block. This action is a grave mistake — it will likely put the lives of those experiencing domestic violence in danger because they will have fewer resources to escape.
Funding for domestic violence programs is already woefully insufficient. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence’s annual census, there were 12,000 inquiries for domestic violence services that could not be fulfilled due to a lack of resources; 63 percent were for housing/shelter. These inquiries included help needed for attaining safe shelter, legal services, transportation assistance and child care, among others. These vital resources assist domestic violence survivors in attaining safety, exercising their legal rights, and other fundamental needs of surviving. Further reducing access to VAWA grants will lead to poorer outcomes for survivors, including increased fatalities.
I answered hotline calls at various community-based domestic violence programs for approximately five years. The first question we always ask is “Are you in a safe place to talk?” Sometimes they weren’t. They were locked in a bathroom with their small children as their abuser was trying to break down the door. On these occasions the police are the appropriate call to make, as they have the expertise, and ability to be dispatched to the location, that advocates do not have. Yet, we are also a fundamental part of assisting survivors in the ongoing struggle to get to safety. When people in need call our hotlines, we don’t ask their political party affiliations. We only want to help people get safe. Domestic violence shouldn’t be a partisan issue.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, murder by an intimate partner is one of the leading causes of death among young to middle-aged women. The vital services provided by domestic violence programs allow survivors to leave abuse more readily, especially if they have few personal resources. The time period when someone is leaving an abusive relationship is the most dangerous time, and often when intimate partner murders take place —domestic violence shelters provide a life-saving service.
There are many occasions where we cannot accommodate requests for safe shelter. This scenario happened almost every shift I worked. There’s nothing quite as difficult as telling a person in need who is fearful for their physical safety that help is not available from us due to a lack of resources, but they can try some other programs.
Public services do not readily adapt to the supply and demand of typical market forces. If we run out of beds in our shelter, we are not able to just order more. It is a complicated process to get more funds: it involves a mixture of grants that have various reporting requirements, ongoing data tracking to ensure we are accountable, ongoing assessment of community needs, continual private fundraising and more. All the while we have to hear client stories that are unimaginable, see children that are too traumatized to play, and help them decide how they want to rebuild their life in safety.
There have been various estimates of how much a murder costs various sectors of the economy. A Mother Jones report estimated the average cost of one murder at $441,000. This is an enormous cost for one death, yet it could be the annual budget of one domestic violence program. This of course does not include the emotional cost of a murder, which is not quantifiable. Obviously it’s is the most extreme outcome of domestic violence, but there are estimates that domestic violence as a whole has an annual economic cost of $8.3 billion per year.
Yet, must we always make the fiscal argument? I suppose we have to because domestic violence prevention and services is unlikely to ever be monetarily profitable. But true leadership is able to have a vision for the future that accounts for multiple interdependent variables and prepare for the impacts of sweeping decisions.
I implore the Trump administration not to believe in fiscally responsible magic and enact a plan of gutting VAWA grants. This decision will have vast consequences, and as I have delineated them for you now, you cannot later say they were unintended.
President TrumpDonald TrumpTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Schumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe MORE has a contested personal history of sexual violence against women. And his public record on violence against women is just beginning, though he has adamantly denied these allegations as false — something I consider an indirect denunciation of violence against women.
I implore the president to openly commit himself to combating violence against women by continuing VAWA grants. Eliminating these essential grants will quite literally be a grave mistake.
Melanie Carlson is an expert in social services issues, having worked for as counselor and advocate for domestic violence and homeless shelter based programs. Currently, she is in a social work Ph.D. program studying the intersection of domestic violence, housing and immigration.
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