By Lynn Rosenthal
For six months now, I have held the first-ever White House position dedicated to combating violence and sexual assault against women and continuing the important work of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Every morning when I’ve walked into the White House, I’ve brought with me the stories of the many survivors I have worked with over the years. I’ve focused on raising the profile of violence against women issues across Federal Agencies, states, tribal communities, and localities; coordinating interagency collaboration on these issues; implementing victim assistance programs; and integrating these issues into Administration-wide programs such as the White House Fatherhood Initiative, the White House Council on Women and Girls, HUD’s fight against homelessness, and the Justice Department’s recent effort to better combat disproportionate violence in tribal communities.
Yesterday, I met with a group of 16 leaders of organizations that combat violence against women, provide resources for women who face domestic violence and sexual assault, and advocate for victims. During this meeting, I shared with these leaders the same information I am sharing with you -- information on how the White House, through the President’s FY 2011 budget, is making combating violence against women a real priority.
Violence Against Women Act as a Budget Priority
The FY 2011 budget will provide a record total of $730 million to combat violence against women -- a $130.5 million increase in funding from the previous fiscal year. The VAWA, passed in 1994, already provides thousands of victims with life-saving services, improvements in the criminal justice system and increased public awareness. The President’s FY 2011 budget not only continues this strong response, but bolsters current funding and responds to the emerging needs of communities.
Crime Victims Fund
The budget provides a $100 million increase from the Crime Victims Fund, specifically for emergency shelter, transitional housing, and other local services for domestic violence and sexual assault victims. By focusing on both immediate safety and long-term housing assistance, we can help ensure that victims don’t have to choose between living with abuse or becoming homeless. Furthermore, the Crime Victims Fund does not consist of a single taxpayer dollar; it is self-sustaining and supported by criminal fines, forfeited bail bonds, and penalties for Federal offenders. In addition to a fund increase from the Crime Victims Fund, the FY 2011 budget provides $140 million for battered women’s shelters and services, an increase of $10 million from the previous fiscal year.
Victim Resources and Legal Support
The $730 million also provides vital funding for victim resources. The National Domestic Violence Hotline and Teen Dating Violence Helpline are receiving increased funding of $4.5 million to ensure every call is answered. The budget also provides $30 million in VAWA funding for victims of sexual assault -- a $15 million increase from the previous year -- which will be utilized by the Sexual Assault Services Program to provide crisis intervention, advocacy within the criminal justice system, support during forensic exams, and other related assistance.
The FY 2011 budget bolsters legal support for domestic violence and sexual assault victims by providing $50 million in VAWA funding for legal assistance for victims, a $9 million increase from the previous year. The Civil Legal Assistance Program will use this funding to help victims more easily obtain protective orders and other assistance available through the court system.
To build upon the above improvements in the criminal justice system, the budget also provides $188 million in STOP grants that provide better training, improved data collection, specialized law enforcement and prosecution units, and courts specialized for domestic violence and sexual assault cases.
Support Across the Board
Ending domestic violence and sexual assault is a priority for President Obama and Vice President Biden. I’ve written about numerous fund increases and initiatives that are testaments to this fact. In my meeting yesterday, the White House’s commitment to violence against women issues was clear -- we are increasing support for women across the board.
Lynn Rosenthal is the White House Advisor on Violence Against Women