Funds lacking to help victims of domestic violence, advocates say

At her request, Capital News Service has chosen not to use the name of the victim quoted in this story.

Capital News Service

In a single day last year, 215 requests for domestic violence services went unmet in Maryland, according to a survey by The National Network to End Domestic Violence.

On that day, Maryland shelters and programs assisted 1,063 other victims, according to the same National Census of Domestic Violence Services.

The main reason for the lack of service is limited funding and resources, according to domestic violence program staff and experts.

During the recession programs had cuts from the government and private sector. Donations were down. Grants were down. I think things are a little better. They are just picking up now though. People cut staff. People restructured their programing,” said Michaele Cohen, executive director for The Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence.

Recently, Maryland Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, both Democrats, announced that 13 Maryland organizations received $8,286,161 in grants from the Office on Violence Against Women at the U.S Department of Justice. The funds will help protect women and families from domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and other dating violence, according to a press release.

Of the Maryland domestic violence programs surveyed in the census, 35 percent reported reduced government funding, 20 percent reported cuts from private funding sources, 15 percent reported not having enough staff, and 5 percent reported reduced individual donations.

For victims of abuse it can be crucial to have access to organizations with efficient and available resources to help aid them on their journey to becoming survivors.

“Domestic violence is still a huge epidemic across our nation, and without proper funding many victims could fall through the cracks and be left without help or assistance,” said a Maryland survivor of domestic violence who requested to remain anonymous, and now works with abuse victims.

When services could not be obtained, an estimated 60 percent of victims ended up returning to their abuser, 25 percent became homeless, and 15 percent ended up living in their cars, according to the organizations surveyed in the census report.

One reason is that housing accounted for 42 percent of the unmet victim requests, according to the census.

Due to lack of funding, Baltimore County, for example, has only one shelter and it is always full, said Keyandra Brisco, director of trauma services for Family and Children’s Services of Central Maryland.

When victims look elsewhere, they realize it is very difficult for other shelters to accept out-of-county survivors due to high demand in their own areas, Brisco said.

“Our program is able to provide emergency hotel shelter, however, clients are (generally) not able to stay longer than 30 days due to funding. For survivors who have been reliant on their perpetrator financially, there is little hope of finding employment and housing within 30 days,” Brisco said.

Funding deficits aren’t only affecting housing availability. Requests for counseling also went unmet, according to the census.

We’re always looking for more contributions to fill the need. Our counseling program has the greatest need. Children are being put on a waitlist,” said Dr. Inga James, president and executive director for Heartly House, a domestic violence program in Frederick.

Counseling and therapy services can become support systems for victims, children and abusers of domestic violence, providing them with important psychological health care.

It’s especially imperative to provide counseling services for children who’ve witnessed violence to help stop an intergenerational cycle. Otherwise, children who grow up in an abusive home environment sometimes grow up to become abusers or victims themselves, said Karen O’Brien who serves on the board of directors for Family Crisis Center of Prince George’s County and has worked with victims of abuse for more than 30 years.

Victims who’ve experienced psychological and physical abuse and children who’ve witnessed such abuse often experience depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and low self-esteem, O’Brien said.

Legal assistance was also listed as one of the main requested services that went unmet, according to the census report.

“That’s huge when someone is represented by an attorney or advocate. They often do better…It’s very intimidating to go to court. Not all victims are effective witnesses for themselves. If they have someone guiding or supporting them it can make a huge difference,” Cohen said.

Some programs are able to offer court accompaniment, victim’s advocates, and/or in-house legal services, but it depends on the county and availability of resources, Cohen said.

Not only are some victims unable to obtain services for housing, legal assistance, counseling and other services, but the lack of funding is a concern in regards to serving victims with special needs, Cohen said.

There needs to be special accommodations for victims of different racial and religious groups, sexual orientations, ages and genders, as well as more intensive programs for people with multiple issues, like those with substance dependencies or children with special needs, Cohen said.

“We need to reach more people, but we need money to do that,” she said.

To keep their current services around and create new outreach programs, organizations turn to anyone willing to help.

“We need more funders and contributors to step up and say, ‘Hey, we appreciate and understand your cause and want to help.’ Without grants, funding, contributions and donations we can’t continue to help in the capacity that we need to reach and assist victims,” said the Maryland survivor who asked to remain anonymous.