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Every October, since 1987, thousands of domestic violence agencies and advocates across the country have been observing domestic violence awareness month. They engage in a range of activities—from marches, rallies, and candle light vigils to talk shows and tabling at community events. Advocates march with or display colorful posters, banners and ribbons, with purple being the dominant color.
This year, they are doing so under a climate of stress, fear and uncertainty created by the government shutdown which has deprived many of their agencies of critical funds.
All across the country, victims of sexual and domestic violence, are being turned away from critical services because funding has been stalled or cut. This has increased their vulnerability and forced them to stay in unsafe and potentially death-threatening relationships.
According to the National Taskforce to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women, even before the shutdown began, service providers across the country were already operating on shoestring budgets, having been squeezed by repeated cuts to funding and the federal sequestration.
National advocacy groups say that while programs remain committed to staying open and providing services as long as they possibly can, they will not be able to weather an extended shutdown. The Office of Violence Against Women (OVW), which is in charge of distributing federal funds to reduce domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking on campus programs, has not been able to do so during the shutdown.
According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) millions of domestic violence victims receive lifesaving services from local organizations each year, including: emergency shelter and transitional housing services; help in obtaining orders of protection; crisis intervention and counseling for themselves and their children; advocacy and support in obtaining medical care and social services; and representation in and assistance with civil and criminal legal matters.
No one is sure what consequences are in store for the hundreds of thousands of victims who cannot be served because of the cuts to funding and services.
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was renewed in March 2013 with bi-partisan support in the House and Senate. The government shutdown undermines this lifesaving bill. "Now the shutdown is endangering the very victims they voted to protect just a few months ago," say advocates.
Also affected by the lack of funds are the scores of advocates and workers in government agencies who may have been furloughed. Programs may not be able to access their federal funds and may have to cut staff, reduce services, and serve even fewer victims in crisis.
"When an average of three women are killed in the United States every day by a current or former intimate partner, it is unconscionable to allow life-saving domestic violence programs to shutter their doors and put their crisis lines on hold," said Kim Gandy, President and CEO of NNEDV.
Anyone who cares what happens to domestic violence and sexual assault victims and the programs that serve them should urge Congress to immediately pass a budget that will allow the federal government to function and that does not enshrine the devastating sequester cuts which have already begun to dismantle victim services across the country.
To receive action alerts, the latest news on vital federal legislation that impacts survivors of domestic violence, and other important information about domestic violence and the work of NNEDV go to http://www.nnedv.org/getinvolved/actionalerts.html
The National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women issued a statement on October 16 stating the following: “The House seems no nearer to passing a bill to reopen the government than before. Progress is stalled in Congress and we need every voice in your state to call for Congress to work quickly to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling. Tell your Congressperson to tell House leadership: ‘Open the government and end the shutdown now. The country’s domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers cannot access the funding they need to help victims. These lifesaving services will close down unless you vote now to end the shutdown and lift the debt ceiling with no conditions.’
For more information, fact sheets, press coverage, support letters and updates: www.4vawa.org.