Monday, July 16, 2012

VAWA or Becoming Your Sister's Keeper

Our politicians are at it again -- playing games rather than trying to solve problems.  Now they are playing with VAWA.  VAWA is the Violence Against Women Act, which was passed in 1994 to improve criminal justice and community support for victims of abuse.  Among other things, VAWA provides federal money for domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers and other programs to end abuse and support survivors.

When the act was renewed in 2000 and 2005, congress added provisions enhancing services for various categories of victims including the disabled, teenaged victims of dating violence and others.  This year, congress added new protections for illegal immigrants, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender individuals and Native American women.  Republicans placed a hold on current legislation, demanding that these new provisions be removed.  So far Democrats have refused to comply.

My concern for VAWA comes from what I have learned since 2008, from walking across portions of Oregon each summer to raise awareness about abuse, to support survivors and to connect them with local domestic violence and child abuse agencies.  Over the last few years, many of these agencies underwent dramatic budget cuts.  Foundations, individuals and governments simply aren’t providing the funds they used to provide.

Abuse doesn’t disappear when funding is cut.  Indeed, murder rates for both men and women murdered by intimate partners dropped after congress enacted VAWA in 1994.  Even so, various sources indicate that as many as one in four women experience some form of domestic violence during their lifetimes and as many as three women and one man are murdered by an intimate partner every day in the United States.

Budget deficits and declining tax revenues will probably remain issues our politicians can’t solve.  Funding for organizations working on domestic violence or child abuse will remain scarce, and some may close their doors.  However, if we turn our backs on victims of violence, we will meet them again as the homeless person struggling with addiction, as the troubled teen who performs poorly in school, and as the frazzled mother living in a shelter with her children.

We can choose to help solve these problems.  How?
  1. Inform yourself.  Watch television programs about abuse.  Read books and articles.  Search for organizations on the internet. Talk to people.  Attend support groups or public presentations about the topic.
  2. Donate time or money to not-for-profits working on the issue.
  3. Become a part of the healing process.  Take classes to learn listening skills to support survivors.  Why?  Because it is difficult to listen to stories of pain and anger.  We often react to our own feelings of discomfort or we want to give advice.  Both reactions silence survivors. When we listen with compassion, we help survivors open up, trust and begin the healing process.
  4. Help raise awareness about the issue.  Join a Take Back the Night rally or a Walk Across Oregon to End Abuse and Heal the Wounds, but please be diplomatic with people with whom you disagree to open up their hearts.
  5. Report abuse when you know about it.  Silence perpetuates abuse.
Both Republican and Democratic concerns about VAWA contain truth.  Democrats are right about the value of government funding, because government  helped establish many of the agencies and not-for-profits that support survivors.  Republicans are right that we, the people, need to take responsibility for solving problems and not rely on government to do it for us.

If government can’t solve these problems, who is going to advocate for children who have too little knowledge and power to advocate for themselves?  Who is going to advocate for the elderly who can no longer feed or dress themselves and who suffer from dementia?  Who is going to advocate for the woman with small children to care for, who automatically became homeless the day she left the spouse who gave her multiple black eyes and criticized her so often she stopped believing in herself?  Who is going to advocate for the man who suffered chronic sexual abused as a child and currently suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and medicates himself with drugs and alcohol?  

We have to do it.  

Virginia Pickles Jones teaches survivors and supporters how to listen to promote healing.  She also walks across portions of Oregon each summer to raise awareness about abuse.  She can be contacted at