What If Leaving Your Abuser Means Living on the Street? How Budget-Cuts Make Life Even Harder for Abused Women
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At the same time that more people are looking for help, state and municipal cuts have gutted the budgets of domestic violence shelters. Private donations are also drying up: 90 percent of the National Network to End Domestic Violence state coalitions reported a drop in private funding. The last thing victims and providers need is an abrupt, arbitrary drop in federal funding, but here comes the sequester.
The cuts, applied across-the-board to federal programs unrelated to the travel plans of lawmakers, are expected to deprive an estimated 106,020 victims of services, according to estimates by the Campaign for Funding to End Domestic and Sexual Violence, U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and others. The cuts imperil everything from shelters, to protective orders to transitional housing. The Violence Against Women Act, which barely survived GOP obstructionism earlier this year, now stands to lose $20 million, according to Justice Department estimates (some groups think that's an underestimate).
"[These programs] are already very much on the edge," says Kim Gandy, president and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence. "The potential of another 5 percent cut, on top of cut after cut after cut—it's the last straw for some of these programs."
According to Gandy, a large majority of NNEDV's state member programs are cutting services and staff in anticipation, and some are in danger of closing entirely. Domestic violence groups in states that don't provide funding are especially panicked because their budgets come from federal grants and private donations.
What does all this mean for a woman who has decided to leave her abuser and needs a safe place to go?
"People will call for emergency shelter and there won't be shelter for them. So they will probably go back to the abusive situation," says Gandy. "If it's just them, they might go sleep under a bridge. But if they've got kids, they might go back to the abuser for shelter and food."
This can mean the difference between life and death, since more than three women are killed by a husband, boyfriend or ex every day.
There's a long history of not doing enough—or doing anything—to help vulnerable women and children in the US, with law enforcement and the judicial system disinclined to intervene in abusive households. Alabama was the first state to reject the idea that a man had a right to beat his wife in 1871, and several states tried to tie criminal penalties to wife-beating after that, but law enforcement mostly tried to keep out of it ("It is better to draw the curtain, shut out the public gaze, and leave the parties to forget and forgive," a North Carolina court ruled in 1874.)
For most of America's history, beating or raping a stranger brought down the full force of law (at least in theory), but doing these things to one's own wife rarely resulted in jail time. When police were forced to mediate a domestic dispute, their primary goal was to calm everybody down and encourage the couple to work it out. Nor was there anywhere for a battered woman to go, a safe place to hide from an abuser who might become even more enraged and dangerous because she ran away.
It took second-wave feminism—and the battered women's movement that grew out of it—to recast domestic violence as a public problem demanding state solutions. Wife-beating was not a thing for cops to throw their hands up in the air and walk away from, but a widespread social blight, an emergency, given the rates of intimate partner homicide, that required a comprehensive public response, from more aggressive policing to state and federal funding for domestic violence resources.