Domestic Violence Centers Facing Tough Times

Dr. Brenda Summers

Domestic violence centers across the country are facing cuts at a time when demand for services is growing. The 2011 National Census of Domestic Violence Services found that 67,399 domestic violence victims were served in one day, and that 10,581 victims requested services but could not get them because programs did not have sufficient resources to accommodate their requests.

This year it may be even more difficult to get services. Many local programs across the country rely on local, state and federal funding, according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), which conducts the annual census. The federal government is reducing funding, and many centers that rely on federal funding for a number of services will be unable to find new sources of revenue.

“We are hearing that some centers are closing, and many others are scaling back services. It is very difficult for staff to tell victims they don’t have the resources to help them,” says Cindy Southworth, Vice President of Development and Innovation for NNEDV.

At least three centers in North Carolina have closed or merged with another agency this year according to Beth Briggs, Executive Director of the North Carolina Council for Women, which oversees the state grant process for local shelters. “We are very appreciative that the General Assembly did not make any cuts this year in our programs,” she stated.

Briggs added that local shelters in North Carolina are being affected by federal cuts. Most shelters, particularly those in rural areas, rely primarily on government funding, with some limited support from individual donors, to provide services to victims of domestic violence.

“The downturn in the economy doesn’t cause domestic violence, but it can exacerbate it,” according to Southworth. “If an abuser is out of work, that individual is constantly monitoring the victim. And the victim cannot leave if she can’t find a job.”

As a Washington Advocate stated in the national survey, “As the downturn of the economy continues, the need for our services has greatly increased, and the needs of our clients have escalated. It is not uncommon for us to work with women living in tents in the woods or in campers without heat and running water. They need safety not only
from their abusers but also from living on the streets.”

InterAct of Wake County, which serves domestic violence and sexual assault victims in the Raleigh, NC area, has seen the demand for services triple since it moved into its new facility in 2009. Executive Director Leigh Duque says the agency is not as reliant on government funding as some other centers, but the government reductions, along with a drop in funding from corporations, foundations and the United Way, have had an impact.

“The demand for increased services at a time when funding for services are reduced is not a good formula for families in need,” said Duque.

The main sources of funding for domestic violence centers are from the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) programs and the Victims of Crime Act Fund (VOCA). While those revenues have remained relatively stable, some vital programs have been reduced since 2010, such as the VAWA Rural program, the Grants to Encourage Arrest Program, VAWA Youth programs, the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA) and the Rape Prevention and Education program.  There have been increases in a few VAWA programs including the Sexual Assault Services Program and Transitional Housing Grants. 

Dr. Brenda Summers teaches nonprofit management courses at North Carolina State University and offers consulting services.

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