Domestic Violence Victims: Another Economic Casualty?
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budget cuts include the complete scrapping of domestic violence funding.
Almost a year after the initial economic catastrophe, the United States is still striving to pull itself out of the mess of debt it has gotten into. State legislators have tried to do everything in their power to make budget cuts so that their states do not fall further into debt. California is no exception to this situation, and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has taken the issue into his own hands, for better or for worse. Unfortunately, some people have been left helpless and underserved as a result of budget cuts, especially victims of domestic violence.
As the leader of the richest state in the nation, Governor Schwarzenegger ordered an emergency budget revision earlier this year in order to prevent the economy in California from getting worse. In a last minute attempt to close a $26 billion budget gap, the governor recklessly included an additional $449 million in new line-item cuts, targeting programs that Schwarzenegger had agreed to keep after weeks of negotiations with Democrats in California. As no surprise, the “Terminator” went about slashing social welfare programs as he has done throughout the reconstruction of the budget.
The programs completely slain from the budget include service for children, the poor, and abused women. The new cuts were in addition to initial plans to reduce welfare payments, diminish education funding, and likely deny health care access to many seniors and children.
One of the most preposterous deductions made in the slew of line-item cuts includes the 100 percent cut of domestic violence funding. (The fact that Schwarzenegger’s wife Maria Shriver plans The Women’s Conference, which serves to empower women in all aspects of their lives, only adds to the irony of the situation). As part of one of his “necessary” budget cuts, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed the Department of Public Health’s Domestic Violence Program, stripping the program of $20.4 million for 94 domestic violence shelters and centers. These places provide vital services, such as emergency shelter, transitional housing, legal advocacy, assistance with restraining orders, and counseling, for those trying to escape abusive relationships and domestic situations. As a result of budget cuts, most if not all of the shelters will have no choice but to close, forcing all of the individuals that reside there to return to unsafe environments. Only a week later, many shelters in Ventura County have already closed their doors and asked women to make other arrangements.
When questioned about his decisions, Governor Schwarzenegger simply responded that they had to make additional cuts and that “[it is] ugly, when already we have cut so much, and then we had to make additional cuts”.
How can they afford to cut spending around such a necessary part of the social welfare system? How can they turn an issue of life or death into an issue of dollars and cents? How do we prevent necessity from being perceived as some sort of commodity?
According to a report from the American Bar Association, approximately 1.3 million women are physically assaulted by an intimate partner annually in the United States. In recent years, an intimate partner has killed approximately 33% of all female murder victims. These statistics do not even begin to describe the emotional pain and grief that these women encounter on a daily basis. When domestic violence victims finally muster the courage to get out of an abusive relationship and venture to a shelter, they arrive scared and unsure, and expect to receive the counseling and help that they so desperately need. Unfortunately for women living in California, they will probably have no where to turn and will continue to stay in abusive, possibly deadly relationships.
Women who experience domestic violence have a lot of trouble removing themselves from their situation and often justify their situation out of fear that they will not survive if they act against the domineering male. Stripping women of a place that they can go when they finally have the strength to start a new life completely denies them of the opportunity to continue their lives at all. Domestic violence is a matter of life and death for millions of women. Resources should never fail to assist victims in need—yet on a national level, thousands of abused women are turned away from state and federally funded programs and shelters because the government reduces costs in the wrong places. Why should the burden of the dwindling economy fall on these vulnerable citizens?
Not only is it completely unfair, but also completely irrational to take money from people during a crucial time of need. Victims will think even harder before getting help and will have to exhaust resources that they do not necessarily have access to once the shelters in their communities disappear, making it even more difficult to put a stop to the egregious acts committed against these women.
Cutting domestic violence programs out of the budget treats it as a commodity rather than as a necessity. Women who suffer in abusive relationships require the services of domestic violence shelters and safe zones in order to start over, often times with their children. Giving shelters no choice but to minimize operations or close entirely makes a shelter a commodity, and something to which everyone does not have access. Shelters will have to turn people away not only based on availability but also based on need. How do you measure how badly someone needs help in a domestic violence situation? Even the thought seems absolutely absurd. The metrics behind something like that would be impossible to standardize, and completely ridiculous to contemplate. Bottom line – someone in an abusive relationship should not be denied necessary care, counseling, and most importantly, protection.
Simply because a government program does not generate any fiscal revenue does not mean that it lacks social benefit that far surpasses the dollars and cents that come from other government programs. The truth of the matter is that as the economic times get worse, social welfare programs and the people that need help the most slip through the cracks. Sadly, with the increasing economic collapse around us, domestic violence is on the rise, and programs that help these people need to exist now more than ever. Education will not be enough in this situation. Turning a helpless victim away, pamphlet in hand, will not help save these women. We cannot afford to let shelters close, nor can we allow our government to take away the programs that protect our precious lives. We need to fight for the victims passed and the millions of women who will become victims every year. We cannot let reckless line-item budget cuts and a failing economy cost people their health and safety. Take action now!
Khushboo Rami is an Events Intern at Campus Progress.