by Dara Richardson-Heron, M.D.
CEO, YWCA USA
“Are you or your children in a life-threatening situation? Are you in immediate danger? Does your abuser have access to weapons or guns of any kind?” These are the very first questions to be asked when a victim of violence walks through the door of a YWCA. The safety of an abused woman is our absolute priority. As it must now be for Congress.
Domestic violence touches every one of us. It fills emergency rooms and morgues, keeps employees from work, terrorizes families and interferes with children’s ability to learn. It drives up health care costs, contributes to crime on our streets, and causes lasting harm to communities. Tragically, domestic violence incidents occur each and every day in the United States and abroad, in high-profile cases like the recent killing in South Africa of the girlfriend of Paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius, and in the apartment or house next door to yours.
In just this past week, we have witnessed numerous domestic violence-related homicides across our nation. In Columbus, Ohio, a woman was allegedly stabbed to death by her husband, who then may have attempted to kill himself. In Florida, Utah and New York, investigations are underway to piece together domestic violence-related murder-suicide cases. And, in Pennsylvania, a man forced his way into the home of a victim, brutally stabbing her to death before fleeing the scene.The suspect had a long criminal history, including aggravated assault, simple assault and terroristic threats — a story that is not uncommon for many known abusers.
On average, four to five women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends each day in the United States as a result of domestic violence. Over 200,000 people are sexually assaulted each year in this country. Congress must pass a bi-partisan Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that mirrors the recently-passed Senate bill (S.47) that protects all victims of violence, regardless of sexual orientation, race or immigrant status.
The YWCA is one of the largest providers of programs that serve victims of violence, serving over 500,000 women and children each year. We provide 24-hour crisis hotlines, emergency shelters, counseling services, legal assistance, child care, economic empowerment programs, and transitional housing for all who come through our doors. The YWCA knows how to create violence prevention programs that save lives, and we rely on vital funding from VAWA to do so.
Without the critical funding that VAWA provides, YWCAs across the country will not be able to take these programs to scale and implement them as widely as is necessary. Fortunately, since VAWA was introduced in 1994, annual occurrences of domestic violence have dropped by 50 percent.
However, the National Network to End Domestic Violence has found in recent studies that the need for services has risen dramatically, while the capacity to provide them has decreased: 92 percent of victim service providers have seen an increased demand, and 84 percent reported that cutbacks in funding were directly affecting their work. The reauthorization and full funding of VAWA can help stop this threat to women’s health and safety.
We know that the House of Representatives wants to address and prevent violence. And, we know that members of the House can work together to finalize a bi-partisan bill that puts victims and their safety first; a bill that includes important improvements to serve all victims and survivors. VAWA was bi-partisan when it first became law in 1994. That should not change.
Preventing domestic and sexual violence and protecting victims must be a priority in our cities, in our states, in our country and in all countries. The need is real, and there is no time to waste. On behalf of the women and families who rely on the YWCA for their health, safety and well-being, the YWCA urges the House of Representatives to act on the momentum created by the Senate and immediately reauthorize an inclusive Violence Against Women Act.
Dr. Dara Richardson-Heron is the CEO of the YWCA USA, which promotes solutions to improve the lives of over 2 million women, girls, people of color and their families in the United States. Dr. Richardson-Heron has more than 20 years of health care leadership, management and operations experience in the corporate and nonprofit sectors. For 150 years, the YWCA has dedicated its efforts to eliminating racism and empowering women with a focus on women’s economic empowerment, racial justice and women’s health and safety. The YWCA is also the largest provider of domestic violence services and battered women’s shelters in the country, serving 500,000 women and children annually.