Congress must reauthorize Violence Against Women Act | Opinion – Sharon K. Roberson (Tennessean)

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Congress must reauthorize Violence Against Women Act | Opinion – Sharon K. Roberson (Tennessean)

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Last spring, after suffering eight long years of emotional and physical abuse “Margaret” found the courage to leave her husband. She took the kids and moved into a new apartment, but her freedom didn’t last long. Her abuser found them, broke the locks, and took children. With the help of Metro’s Office of Family Safety, Margaret obtained an order of protection and got her children back. But she still needed a safe and secure place to stay. She contacted the YWCA’s Crisis & Support Helpline, and moved into the Weaver Domestic Violence Center.  Without these critical community resources, Margaret could have become another grim statistic.

Tennessee ranks fifth in the nation for the rate at which men kill women. Last year, 81 murders in Tennessee were the result of domestic violence.

One in four women will become a victim of domestic abuse in her lifetime, and children who witness abuse are more likely to become abusers or become a victim. Margaret and her children were already part of the cycle, but thanks to community resources they have a chance to break the cycle.

While staying at the Weaver Center, Margaret and her children were able to receive therapy to work through the years of trauma. She got not one but two jobs, and within a month, the family was able to obtain transitional housing. She and the children began to thrive. Margaret joined a church and has become a leader in her faith community. Margaret and her children’s lives were changed and saved because of the resources made possible by a federal law, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

The law is set to expire on Dec. 7 and women will suffer

Recently, Congress passed a budget extension to prevent the government from shutting down. Included in this massive bill was a very brief reprieve for VAWA.  A landmark piece of legislation passed in 1994, VAWA provides critical federal funding to improve criminal justice and community-based responses to gender-based violence, including intimate partner violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. However, this shot-term extension is set to expire on Dec. 7, and if it does, the consequences would be devastating for women, children, and families fleeing abuse.

VAWA is a lifeline for victims and agencies that work to keep them safe, including more than 200 YWCAs across the U.S. With VAWA, YWCAs are able to provide:

  • 24-hour emergency hotline services;
  • emergency shelter and supportive services;
  • short-term and transitional housing;
  • culturally and linguistically appropriate assistance, intervention and therapy programs for children who have witnessed or experienced violence in their homes; and
  • prevention and intervention programs to address teen dating violence and sexual assault among youth.

Locally, YWCA Nashville & Middle Tennessee operates the largest emergency domestic violence shelter in the state of Tennessee. The 51-bed (soon to be 65-bed) Weaver Domestic Violence Center serves more than 500 women and children each year who uproot their lives to escape domestic violence.

The crisis of domestic violence is real

Victims, like Margaret, access YWCA services by calling the 24-hour Crisis and Support Helpline. Last year, more than 7,500 calls for help were made.  Police and community service providers also connect survivors to YWCA services that include children’s therapy, support groups, and transitional housing programs. VAWA has helped the YWCA and our affiliates across the country extend services and programs to millions of women, girls, and families.

The crisis of domestic abuse is real and it demands that every member of Tennessee’s congressional delegation support the 2018 Reauthorization of VAWA. All survivors of gender-based violence should have access to services and programs to help them recover, heal, and rebuild their lives

Nashville and every community across Tennessee and the nation rely on VAWA  to make their communities stronger, healthier, and safer. The demand for services has never been greater. Please join us in calling for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act of 2018 by contacting your U.S. representative and senators to urge them to co-sponsor and support this lifesaving legislation.

Sharon K. Roberson is president and CEO of the YWCA Nashville & Middle Tennessee.

This op/ed was originally published in the Tennessean on Oct. 31, 2018