State must support survivors of gender-based violence
May 22, 2019
By Debra J. Robbin and Lysetta Hurge-Putnam, Cape Cod Times
Budgets are fundamentally a reflection of values. Every year, how our elected officials choose to invest finite resources speaks to the relative importance they ascribe to the many challenges our communities face. This year - against the backdrop of renewed national conversation about the pervasiveness of sexual assault and harassment - legislators on Beacon Hill have the opportunity to signal that supporting survivors and ending gender-based violence are among our state’s top priorities.
Jane Doe Inc., the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, and its member organizations, including Independence House, are working every day to help survivors deal with the mental, physical, emotional and financial consequences of sexual assault and domestic violence, and to make inroads on education and prevention efforts that decrease the prevalence of gender-based violence. Confronting popular representations of unhealthy masculinity and supporting survivors as they navigate the complex impacts of gender-based violence is hard enough, but it’s nearly impossible without adequate funding.
Many agencies - Independence House among them - need additional resources just to meet the most basic needs of the people they serve, and to address the many barriers survivors face. For example, many of the residents in more rural and geographically isolated communities like Truro, Wellfleet and Eastham on the Cape, and a vast majority of Berkshire, Franklin and Hampshire counties, lack adequate public transportation options to access services. And to effectively serve diverse communities, many organizations need additional bilingual/bicultural attorneys. At Independence House, current funding levels mean supporting these needs simply isn’t possible - effectively denying easily accessible, culturally specific service delivery to entire communities. These challenges illustrate the less obvious barriers survivors face, which often go unaddressed and leave already vulnerable people in dangerous situations.
This is why it’s so important that lawmakers on Beacon Hill sustain robust investments in supporting organizations that provide direct services to survivors, through the Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Prevention and Treatment Services line item in the state budget.
Equally important are investments in prevention. School- and community-based prevention programming that is culturally appropriate and community-driven succeeds by fostering values and reinforcing behaviors that can prevent sexual and domestic violence, but they require funding support to do so.
This year, Gov. Baker recommended $1 million for prevention training programs through the Healthy Relationships Grant Program. The recently passed House budget included $650,000. We now look to the Senate - and ultimately to the full Legislature - to adopt our full request for $1 million. We urge lawmakers on Beacon Hill to work together to ensure this critical funding is included in the final state budget, and signal that the commonwealth is serious about preventing sexual and domestic violence.
Eradicating sexual assault and domestic violence is a difficult and complex challenge, and one that should be an urgent goal for everyone - elected officials, parents, teachers, health care providers and others - concerned with the safety, health and well-being of communities across Massachusetts. It requires a holistic approach that addresses every facet of the issue, from prevention to access to assistance and resources, to culturally specific support. We are calling on our Legislature to demonstrate its commitment to ending gender-based discrimination and violence and provide the necessary funding to realize these shared goals.
Debra J. Robbin is executive director of Jane Doe Inc., and Lysetta Hurge-Putnam is executive director of Independence House in Hyannis.