Sex and gender at work, in bed, and on the street

D.C. sexual assault, domestic violence services face budget shortfall

April 18, 2011 - 01:00 PM
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Messages for domestic violence survivors at one of DASH's transitional housing facilities. (Photo: TBD Staff)

In 2009, D.C. police fielded an average of one domestic violence call every 17 minutes. Last year, the DC Rape Crisis Center served more than 9,000 victims of sexual assault. In one day alone, domestic violence service providers across the the District of Columbia served 407 victims. Due to limited resources, providers turned away 37 more.

If Mayor Vince Gray's proposed budget for FY2012 is approved, District organizations serving victims of domestic and sexual abuse may be forced to turn many more victims away. Gray's budget would shuttle just $5.9 million to the Office of Victims Services. Advocates say that figure would leave District victims' services with a budget shortfall of at least $3 million.

"The D.C. council is essentially putting [the Office of Victims' Services] in a position where it could be forced to choose between sheltering and counseling battered women and counseling rape victims," says Jeni Gamble, executive director of Women Empowered Against Violence. "All victims need the supportive services available today to recover from their experiences and go on to live safe and productive lives."

Without that $3 million, DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence executive director Karma Cottman estimates that hundreds of victims would be left without care on any given day. "Rather than 37 women and children unable to receive services" each day, Cottman says, "D.C. would see 159 women and children turned away because domestic violence providers would lack the necessary resources to serve them."

Last week, victims' advocates testified in front of the D.C. council's Committee on Public Safety & the Judiciary in an attempt to lobby for more cash. Here's a quick look at how the budget shortfall would affect D.C. victims of violence:

Emergency shelter: "like the police and fire department, [My Sister's Place] is often a first responder, on the front line of service for survivors who find themselves suddenly homeless and fearing for their lives," testified Lauren Vaughan, Executive Director of My Sister's Place, which provides emergency and transitional housing to victims of domestic violence.

"In FY2010, we were unable to serve approximately 530 victims and children," testified District Alliance for Safe Housing executive director Peg Hacskaylo. "This means that those we could not serve likely ended up living on the streets, or trying to access the District’s homeless shelter system, which is often filled to capacity and does not offer confidentiality or the critical support services necessary for many victims. Inevitably, these victims and their children likely return to the abuse they tried to flee because there was no housing for them."

Rape crisis counseling: "without the critical funding we receive from OVS we would have to reduce the number of individual and group counseling clients served from 184 to 20–a 90 percent decrease," DC Rape Crisis Center executive director Denise Synder testified. "Since DCRCC targets the most underserved communities in the District, most of those survivors would not have access to other services. Our prevention and risk reduction work would be slashed, offering girls’ clubs in 4 schools instead of 12 and dropping most of our general community education and outreach. It may even mean cutting back the 24-hour hotline, taking away the critical lifeline for the thousands of survivors who use it each year."

Domestic violence services: "the majority of our members continue to operate with less than five paid staff; many have taken significant funding cuts due to a decrease in individual giving and less support from private foundations," Cottman testified on behalf of the DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence. "If the city does not appropriate the necessary funds to sustain services currently funded through OVS, several of our member organizations that provide services to underserved populations, such as disabled victims, immigrants, and victims with chemical dependency issues, will likely shut their doors."

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