The 2017 political climate has brought about a lot of turmoil, rumors are flying around like airplanes as people discuss real news, fake news, and everything in between. Budget talks have been happening, and while that is not the most glamorous of subjects, it is an extremely important one.
The Hill has reported that the Trump administration is considering a potential budget plan that would call for the cutting of VAWA grants, this has people close to the issue on the edge of their seats with worry. But, before I get ahead of myself let’s talk about what VAWA even is.
I sat down with Lauren McDonough, MSW, Supervisee in Social Work, a children’s therapist at a domestic violence shelter in Virginia to get her thoughts on this possibility and what effects that might have.
What is VAWA?
VAWA is an acronym for “The Violence Against Women Act”, it is a law that provides an umbrella of grant funding for different programs covering everything from domestic violence shelters, transitional housing programs, legal aid (to help go to court, protective orders, and hearings), supervised visitation programs, and training for police officers and judicial staff in terms of dealing with domestic violence. VAWA is an acknowledgment that domestic violence is really a public health issue and that it needs to be addressed as one. It has been reauthorized a few times in with updates on the act, to continue to build on its success and help victims of domestic violence.
So, cutting VAWA grants?
In order to cut federal spending across the board, the presidential administration is looking at what programs could be cut. As I mentioned earlier, VAWA has been discussed for potential cutting, and although there has been no concrete plan or conversation about it amongst the presidential staff, it is still a terrifying possibility.
The first thing I learned is that it wouldn’t completely defund these shelters, they get money from the county as well, however, many grants also help support these shelters, so there would still be a negative impact, even if we are not totally able to qualify that into specific numbers. There are many aspects of assistance that would suffer and Lauren had a lot to say about each of them.
Financial assistance is a huge part of VAWA because it is a huge part of the cycle of domestic violence. Lauren explained that “financial pressures are a big reason why women are unable to leave abusive situations. Under VAWA, there is a great deal of grant funding available to support victims of violence financially, in the form of legal and rental assistance, allowing them the opportunity to leave abusive relationships where they may be financially dependent or controlled.” Often times abusers are a major, or only, source of income for a family and if the victims are unable to financially support themselves, then they are less likely to get out of an abusive relationship. This is a huge part of how VAWA helps.
“One large program that would likely be affected would be legal assistance programs,” Lauren told me, “these programs provide legal representation and support to individuals seeking protective orders, changes in custody agreements, and other legal action against their abusers. Again, leaving an abusive relationship becomes much more challenging if individuals are not able to pursue legal actions to keep themselves, and potentially their children, safe.”
VAWA offers financial aid for victims who can’t afford a lawyer or legal aid on their own. If a woman is unsure if she will be able to pursue a protective order and have legal protection for her safety, then she’s less likely to leave.
Supervised Visits, Transitional Housing, and Counseling
The financial implications hold true for these things as well, here’s what Lauren had to say on that:
Supervised visits: “VAWA grants support supervised visitation programs where alleged abusers can visit with their children in a safe and supervised environment. These programs are important for the safety and protection of the children affected and allow them to have safe contact with their parent.”
Transitional housing programs: “Because of the cycle of power and control present in domestic violence, many women return to their abuser, because of the dynamics within the relationship. Without the option of long-term housing programs that assist women in working towards independent living, the chances of returning to an abuser when faced with homelessness as perhaps the only alternative, increases.”
Counseling for these victims and children: “The proposed cuts may also reduce an individual’s ability to access low-cost counseling services to address the trauma they have experienced.” Since Lauren is a therapist for children who have been witness to, or victims of domestic violence she had a lot of expert knowledge on the counseling services, “When early intervention services are provided to children who have experienced such levels of trauma, there are many positive effects and impacts on these families who are amazingly resilient.”
A Noticed Problem…
The potential cutting of VAWA is truly terrible but there have been other issues since Trump has taken office. Lauren and the other employees of the shelter have noticed a distinct drop in attendance at the shelter…
“Although we are not certain of the exact reason, since the current administration’s recent actions with regards to immigration, we have noticed that the number of women and families entering our shelter have decreased. In addition, the rate at which we utilize interpreting services to respond to crisis calls has also decreased. Individuals who do not speak English, or who are not here legally, and therefore may be unable to get a job and support themselves financially, are more vulnerable to the cycle of power and control. As such, a large portion of the clients we serve are often non-English speakers and may have immigrated from another country.
Immigration status is an often a major form of control that abusers use against victims of domestic violence, threatening to notify immigration of their illegal status if they report incidents of abuse to the police or attempt to flee.
With recently increased fear surrounding immigration, we could surmise that abused women who are of non-legal status or who are not citizens of the United States are afraid to seek help for fear of being turned over to ICE officials.”
The shelters will not turn someone in because of their immigration status, their goal is to keep people safe from abuse, however, there has been an instance where a woman who went to court and was seeking a protective order was then taken to by ICE officials, having been discovered at her hearing.
This is devastating. A woman seeking help should not be punished, but that is the fear these women have and it has been noticed in the shelters.
Finally, I asked Lauren what her personal opinions were, not just as a therapist but also as an American. She is someone who sees these victims daily, she cares for them and understands what they need to be successful.
“I am obviously extremely passionate about these issues and the importance of funding provided by VAWA. I have witnessed firsthand how courageous these women are in their decision to leave abusive relationships and start over on their own. If these women and families cannot continue to receive such crucial support and services, they may be forced to remain in abusive family situations. Countless research indicates that such environments adversely affect a child’s development in multiple areas of functioning: emotional, social, intellectual, and physical. Such services and funding are truly necessary to stop the cycle of violence and support children in healthy development.”
If you are looking for more information on these issues check out this website.