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Violence Against Women Act impacts locals

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In a letter to constituents on Feb. 28, Montana’s senior Senator Max Baucus reported that the United State Congress extended the Violence Against Women Act. Baucus’s letter stated that one in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime and numbers are higher for Native American women. 

The VAWA was originally passed in 1994, with Baucus supporting it at that time. Extending the act kept the flow of money going for fifty programs in Montana to the tune of $4 million. Services in Lake County, such as Domestic Violence Education and Service and Safe Harbor, breathed a sigh of relief. 

Bevra Jacobson, director of the Victim’s Assistance Program of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, and Jenifer Blumberg, director of DOVES, said their organizations are “sister organizations.”

Representatives can assist a victim of domestic abuse, partner/family member assault, sexual assault, rape, incest or stalking with applying for an order of protection.

Both groups offer assistance in obtaining orders of protection, crisis counseling, legal advocacy, information and referrals, accompaniment to court proceedings, pro bono legal services for those who qualify, ongoing contact with victims, financial assistant, including gas vouchers, rent assistance, grocery vouchers, utility assistance, clothing vouchers, a toll-free 24-hour hotline, support groups and community training. 

Blumberg said most of DOVES’ funding, for the legal program and the rural program, comes from VAWA, and even the state money is passed through VAWA. Congress has authorized the program before with no problem, but this year, with sequestration, DOVES worried. 

“We’ll be able to keep our funding,” Blumberg said.

That’s a good thing, she added, because more progress needs to be made. Blumberg said Cindy Weese, Missoula YWCA Director, made the point that maybe there is not more domestic abuse, but more people are stepping forward and asking for help because services are available.

As far a numbers of women go, Blumberg said, imagine sitting in a room with four or five other women. Probably somewhere in one of these women’s lives there is an abusive or violent relationship or instance. 

Also, she added that “the stranger attack, when someone jumps out of the bushes,” doesn’t happen a lot. Lots of victims know their attacker, but somehow the attitude is out there that if victim knows the attacker or vice versus, it’s not rape. Safe Harbor serves Lake County and the Flathead Reservation to provide shelter, safety, nurturing, advocacy, financial support and healing to the survivors of domestic violence and those in need.  Executive Director DeeAnn Richardson said Safe Harbor receives VAWA funds through the Montana Board of Crime Control. If the act hadn’t passed, it was going to affect funding going forward. 

Safe Harbor served 403 women. 11 men and 129 children in 2012.

While VAWA will continue to funnel funds to Safe Harbor, the organization did have a federal grant cut by $50,000, about a quarter Safe Harbor’s yearly budget. The grant was a pass through from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Since the Tribes don’t have a shelter, the money came to Safe Harbor. Apparently more small tribes across the United States applied for the grant also, spreading the money thinner, although no one knew the cut was coming. 

To make up the money, board members and staff will be brainstorming ideas for small fundraisers. Already a pool tournament is planned to benefit Safe Harbor, and Richardson said be prepared to see staffers running bake sales this year. 

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