Domestic violence on the rise as funding tanks

October marks Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness about this epidemic and renew our commitment to ending it. As a nation, we must recognize the very real danger of domestic violence in our communities and acknowledge the importance that our national economy has on the incidents of violence in the home.According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in any given year, women experience about 4.8 million intimate partner-related physical assaults and rapes. Men experience 2.9 million intimate partner-related assaults each year. Making matters worse, the recession's wake has left more families in danger as unemployment, home foreclosures and bankruptcies compound the stress on already strained relationships. A June Chicago Tribune headline sums up what experts agree is a national trend: "Domestic violence reports on the rise; Demand for support services reaches a peak as the economic downturn drives up the desperation that can lead to abuse." The National Domestic Violence Hotline, which takes approximately 21,000 calls a month, reported a 13 percent increase in calls from October 1, 2008 through March 31, 2009. In addition, when the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence surveyed state domestic violence coalitions this September, they reported shelters filled to capacity with residents who were in need of longer stays and who had experienced more severe forms of violence. In some areas, the coalitions even reported increased domestic violence-related homicide rates. And while the need for services is increasing, budget constraints at all levels of government and in the non-profit sector have taken a toll on critical programs available to assist families impacted by domestic violence. Nationwide, domestic violence programs - including the National Domestic Violence Hotline - have lost sizeable portions of their operating budgets. Many states have slashed their budgets and both corporate and private donations are down. As a result, domestic violence programs are in financial peril and struggling to provide needed services. Programs turn first to letting staff go. Prevention programs are next, denying a generation of youth the opportunity to begin their life in safe and healthy relationships. Last, services to victims are painstakingly reduced or eliminated. In California, Governor Schwarzenegger terminated the entire state budget for domestic violence. Since then, nine California shelters have closed. Programs, such as Peace Over Violence in Los Angeles, report what programs are experiencing nationwide: reduced staff and greater need. In order to truly address this crisis and help families, domestic violence programs must have adequate funding to continue their life-saving work. Congress can make an enormous difference in filling the gaps left by these budget cuts by fully funding the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA). Enacted by Congress in 1984, FVPSA provides funding for critical domestic violence services including shelters, crisis lines, counseling, safety planning and other vital assistance to victims and their families. These essential services rebuild lives, creating safe homes and communities. In addition, passage of the Security and Financial Empowerment Act (SAFE) is critical to assisting domestic violence victims by allowing them to take unpaid leave from work to address their needs without fear of losing their jobs. It would also allow victims to qualify for unemployment benefits if they leave a job or are fired as a result of taking time off to seek medical services, find housing or attend court proceedings. This month and throughout the year, we have to reflect on our national priorities and place more emphasis on creating safe homes and communities for our families. The many rewards of this commitment - including saving lives - far outweigh the costs. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard is a longtime advocate on behalf of survivors of domestic violence. As an assembly member, she authored a law that requires state courts to consider a batterer's history of domestic violence during child custody hearings. Rita Smith executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, where she has been working since 1992. ********** Published: October 16, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 26