March 2007 Issue Guide

CABWHP publishes issue guides with thorough analyses of health policy issues addressing mental, emotional and physical health. Our Issue Guides are distributed via mail to Policy Advisory Group members and to over 1,000 colleagues and organizational collaborators.

Sexual Violence:
Prioritizing the Health & Safety of Survivors

On October 4, 2005, the United States Senate passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 2005 by unanimous consent. The vote in the House on September 28, was 415 to 4-showing overwhelming bipartisan support. 1 The 2005 version of VAWA focused on improving services to communities of color, rural, and immigrant populations. Violence against women and children is a health and social justice issue. We know that women of color, women with disabilities, poor and homeless women, and immigrant women are at a higher risk for being victimized. These women also have more difficulty accessing services that are culturally and linguistically competent, or that provide adequate accommodations for individuals with disabilities. VAWA of 2005 includes some new provisions for comprehensive housing needs and funding for prevention and training services that will help crisis centers, law enforcement and the criminal justice system improve their response to our communities.2 However, currently VAWA does not have the necessary funding appropriated to address violence against women and children, especially in communities of color.3

The Violence Against Women Act of 2005 took effect in January 2006. The bill authorizes $3.9 billion for support programs, including major enhancements, for the next five years. However, this bill does not actually provide the funding. The bill is just the first step. It only sets an upper spending limit. For each of the 5 years covered by the bill, Congress will need to pass legislation appropriating the specific amount of funds that the government will provide for each of the VAWA programs. There is no guarantee that Congress will appropriate the $3.9 billion that was authorized, or even the minimum amount that is needed. The war in Iraq, budget cuts, and other major expenses have resulted in less money for human services programs such as VAWA. President Bush's 2007 budget for VAWA does not include enough money for many of the previously established VAWA programs and services. Moreover, the budget for domestic violence and sexual programs for fiscal year 2007 requested amounts far below the amounts authorized. Despite the overwhelming Congressional votes for VAWA, it is not guaranteed that Congress will vote for adequate funding to support the programs. Very strong public support of VAWA will be necessary to convince Congress to provide adequate funding from now through 2010.

Domestic violence and sexual assault directly affect survivors' housing options. A 2005 survey of U.S. cities found that domestic violence was a primary cause of local homelessness in half of the cities.4 Complicating this issue is that housing authorities have been allowed to evict tenants for any criminal activity, putting some domestic and sexual violence victims in further jeopardy of losing housing. The housing provisions in VAWA 2005 begin to amend some of these shortcomings by making housing more accessible and nondiscriminatory. The housing provision includes grants to increase victims' long-term stability, to combat violence against women in public and assisted housing, and transitional housing assistance. This funding is intended to develop long-term sustainability and self-sufficiency options for adults and young people who are victims of domestic and sexual violence and are currently homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.5

Sexual violence is a silent epidemic in Black communities. Due to the realities of racism, sexism and classism, the violation of Black women within the Black community has been silenced, if not blatantly denied. Historian Elsa Barkley Brown reminds us that the truth of violence against women is one of the most underanalyzed aspects of Black history.6 From the beginning of the middle passage and slavery, Black women's bodies have been brutalized by rapes, beatings, child sexual abuse, and harassment. Dr. Gail Wyatt of UCLA found in a study of Black women that 40% reported instances of coerced or forced sexual contact prior to age 18.7 However, it is the rising numbers of these crimes committed within our own communities that must be given voice today.

As part of VAWA 2005 (Public Law No: 109-162), the Sexual Assault Services Program (SASP) was initiated to provide assistance to victims of sexual violence. Specifically, SASP will provide funds for service providers and make resources available to state, territorial and tribal sexual assault coalitions who work to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of local rape crisis centers.8 Over 1,300 rape crisis centers offer services to survivors of sexual violence nationwide. In California, there are over 80 rape crisis centers and rape prevention programs that are private non-profit organizations. These organizations have limited paid staff and volunteers that respond to the needs of survivors of sexual violence. They are trying to meet the increased need for services with reduced government funding. As a result, staff must spend more time asking for donations and writing grants than attending to the direct services needs of the community. Additional staff is needed to provide medical and legal accompaniments, short- and long-term individual counseling, support groups for victims and their families and operate 24-hour hotlines.9

Jacqui C. Williams, Director of Policy and Education for the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault recently stated, "advocates have been asked to call their local representatives to urge them to sign onto a letter regarding funding for the Sexual Assault Services Program of VAWA. Of all the new initiatives, SASP while authorized for $50 million received an appropriation for $5 million after much advocacy was done. So we need your help now to ensure funds authorized do get appropriated for 2008."10 These funds are vital to increase services, meet the needs of communities of color, and provide education and outreach so that the public is aware of the availability of these services. Appropriated funds would be used for: 1) general intervention and advocacy including accompaniment through medical, criminal justice and social support systems and related assistance; 2) training and technical assistance relating to sexual assault for various organizations, including government, law enforcement, courts, nonprofit organizations, faith-based organizations and professionals working in legal services, social services and healthcare; and 3) intervention and related assistance for culturally specific organizations to address sexual violence. 11 This will mean more accessible, culturally competent services for survivors of sexual violence in our communities.

No new VAWA programs received a funding request for FY 2007. Included in these programs are funds for communities of color, prevention programs, sexual assault services, provisions for long-term housing for victims, programs for Native Women and children and teen services. Without funding, these new programs included in VAWA 2005 will not be able to take effect.

The President's budget also asks the Treasury to absorb the balance of the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) fund. This means that in 2008 there will be no VOCA funding in the reserve for state and local victim service providers. VOCA funds come from criminal fines, not taxpayer dollars.

Many organizations and individuals are advocating for full funding of VAWA Sexual Assault Services Programs. Specifically, advocates are voicing the following concerns and requests:

  • Fully fund all VAWA programs to ensure that lives are saved and that violence is prevented in our communities, including many new community-based programs that are essential in stopping the cycle of violence.

  • Without fully-funding VAWA, our communities will suffer setbacks in ending these horrible crimes.

  • Reject the President's decision to rescind the VOCA fund.

  • VOCA is funded from criminal fines and NOT tax payer money.

  • VOCA funds services that help victims recover from all types of crime.12

To find support, get more information or to become a volunteer, please contact:

Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN): 1(800) 656-HOPE or www.RAINN.org
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1(800) 799-7233 or www.ndvh.org
California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA): www.calcasa.org
Statewide California Coalition of Battered Women (SCCBW) www.sccbw.org
Verbal Abuse Support Resources www.verbalabuse.org
Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community www.dvinstitute.org
Faith Trust Inc. (Faith and domestic and sexual violence) www.faithtrustinstitute.org
The Black Church and Domestic Violence www.bcdvi.org
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence www.ncadv.org

Upcoming Events

SAVE THE DATE!

CALIFORNIA BLACK WOMEN’S HEALTH PROJECT

Presents

Black Women & Sexual Violence:
Prevention, Advocacy & Healing

A TOWN HALL MEETING

When: Saturday, March 24, 2007
Where: Oakland, California (Location: TBD)
Time: 10 a.m. - Noon

Light Refreshments will be served!

For more info: 310 412-1828 x15 or adrienne@cabwhp.org

Let your voice be heard!

Special Research Initiative Stakeholder Meetings for the

California Breast Cancer Research Program

Your opportunity to tell the CBCRP how to invest $18 million for the Special Research Initiatives.

During March and April, the CBCRP will hold four in-person stakeholder meetings and two telephone/web conferences to:

  1. Review scientific highlights in environmental links to breast cancer and disparities
  2. Discuss and brainstorm promising research topics and/or approaches
  3. Learn about funding opportunities

In-Person Meetings
Ukiah: March 26th, 12-4pm
Fresno: April 5th, 12-4pm
Los Angeles: April 9th, 8am-12:30pm
San Francisco: April 11th, 8am-12:30pm

Phone/Web Conferences (if you are unable to attend an in-person meeting)
April 4th, 12-1:30pm
April 12th, 12-1:30pm

For more info: http://www.cabreastcancer.org/sri/stakeholderMeetings/


Contact by email for more info

REFERENCES

1 Feminist Majority Foundation, "Violence Against Women Act Reauthorized; Cuts Made to Minority Programs", Daily News Wire, www.feminist.org

2 National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Public Policy Office, www.ncadv.org

3 National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Public Policy Office, www.ncadv.org

4 U.S. Conference of Mayors, A Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness in America's Cities: A 24-City Survey, 2005

5 Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, A Look at VAWA Housing Provisions, 2006, www.povertylaw.org

6 Elsa Barkley Brown, "Imaging Lynching: African American Women, Communities of Struggle, and Collective Memory", 1995

7 Africana Voices Against Violence, Statistics, www.ase.tufts.edu/womenscenter/peace/africana

8 Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, www.rainn.org/policy/sexual-assault-services-program

9 Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, www.rainn.org/policy/sexual-assault-services-program

10 New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault, www.nyscasa.org

11 Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, www.rainn.org/policy/sexual-assault-services-program

12 National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, www.ncadv.org