Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Class Matters: Why VAWA Needs To Be Re-Authorized

Guest blogger: Danielle Marryshow

As a college student, I must be especially careful in my own relationships because victims of teen and college dating violence, according to the Center for Disease Control, “may also carry patterns of violence into future relationships” as a result of their experience. As a child of domestic violence, I am more likely to exhibit increased tolerance for violence in my own relationships. As such, I must be especially careful not to fall into a “pattern of violence”. If violence is not prevented early, it is even harder for victims to escape their abuser—even if they want to.

The complexities of domestic violence hit me one day in November. I was leaving my work-study job to get to class. As I stepped out onto the street, a woman yelled out to me. In a shaking voice, she told me that she was attempting to get to a battered women’s shelter. She informed me that she was pregnant, her husband had locked her in a closet for the last three days, and she needed money to get a cab, as the shelter was not accessible by public transportation. She repeatedly kept assuring me that she wasn’t crazy, while looking around her suspiciously as if he were right behind her.

            I knew she wasn’t crazy, because I recognized the look in her eye. It was the same look I had seen on my mother’s face. It was the same look my mother had seen on my grandmother’s face. The look was one of fear.

            The bipartisan, Senate-version of the Violence Against Women Act must be re-authorized for several reasons, but one of the most important is its provision to ensure safe homes and economic security for victims. Though all women benefit from these programs, women from lower socio-economic backgrounds especially benefit from the added security.

            The reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act revises eligibility requirements for transitional housing grants to specify that any victims of domestic violence are eligible. This would help make it easier for women to escape abusive relationships, by removing the risk of homelessness. These grants would allow the woman I met to have more time after leaving emergency shelter to find permanent housing.

            They also allow battered women to leave all at once, and catch their abuser off-guard rather than leave in stages and invite further danger. In fact, leaving in stages is only possible when, as in my mother’s case, you have a strong support system of people helping you escape the dangerous situation.

When my mother began divorce proceedings, my mother, father, brother and I continued to live under the same roof for several months while she found somewhere to live. Had my grandmother not decided to stay with us and my future stepfather not made himself a presence, we would have been in much more danger than we were.

            Many battered women aren’t that fortunate. Many women’s abusers have isolated them from their family and friends, leaving them utterly dependent. In order to leave, they often have to leave when their abuser is asleep or away and all at once. Transitional housing is necessary so that they have the time to secure permanent housing and get on their feet.

            The transitional housing grants aren’t just used for housing alone. They are also used for support services for victims to secure employment such as counseling and training. This is critical, as many victims are financially dependent on their abuser.

            The woman I ran into illustrates that problem. She was so financially dependent on her husband that she didn’t even have the $10 it cost to take a cab to the shelter. Guaranteeing the relative financial security of victims is crucial to getting them away and keeping them away from their abusers.

            My mother, in contrast, had a very good job and made a comparable amount to my father. She had her own bank accounts and assets her in name. Because of her financial independence, the added risk of not being able to support us if she left was nonexistent. When we finally did leave, she was certain that she would be able to find housing that she could afford and that she would be able to support us financially.

            The Violence Against Women Act has several provisions that help abused women (and men) get away from the terror that has consumed their everyday lives. The section that helps women secure homes and employment are critical in increasing the number of women who successfully make it out of an abusive relationship.

            Class should not be a prerequisite for safety. It is the government’s responsibility to make sure that its citizens are as free from harm as possible. Since 1994, the United States government has been committed to doing just that.

            The act expired in September 2011. For almost a year, these protections and many more have not existed for battered women. Women have had to consider the fact that by leaving they could become destitute. Many will make the calculation that they cannot afford to leave—when they really can’t afford not to.

Without its swift re-authorization, thousands of women will be trapped in relationships where they are physically and emotionally abused every day. As the House and the Senate square off, many more women will die in these toxic relationships. It is imperative that the House adopt the “gold-standard” Senate-version of the reauthorization, and help women create lives for themselves and their children, free from abuse.

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