Save lives by funding Ohio's domestic violence programs

Teresa Stafford
Teresa Stafford

The Battered Women's Shelter of Summit and Medina counties has seen firsthand the impact of significant cuts in federal funding for domestic violence services — a decrease of about $1.3 million for our shelter since 2019.

That’s why the $20 million in additional funding for domestic violence services that Gov. Mike DeWine and Attorney General Dave Yost are recommending be included in the Ohio budget for 2024-2025 is so crucial. Those dollars can make a lifesaving impact on our ability to help survivors of domestic violence escape dangerous situations, and, through community education and outreach, to prevent more violence from happening.

It’s the right thing to do.

While we provided 23,616 nights of emergency shelter to survivors in 2022, it wasn’t enough. We had to turn away 350 adults and children because our facility was at capacity. Last year, across the state, shelters turned away more than 1 in 3 survivors of domestic violence because of a lack of funding.

That puts people experiencing domestic violence at risk of severe injury or even death. In the fiscal year ending in June, Ohio reported 81 people victims killed in domestic violence cases, along with 31 perpetrators. The youngest victim was a day-old baby; the oldest, a 90-year-old woman.

During the last year, we have seen a 12% increase in calls to our crisis hotline at the same time federal funding cuts have brought significant cuts in services. When the federal Victims of Crime Act funding was slashed, we were forced to scale back our court advocacy program for survivors, to essentially eliminate our domestic violence prevention and outreach programming and to cut back the work of crisis intervention specialists assisting survivors at the emergency shelter.

At the same time, more survivors are needing help and they come with increasingly complex needs, including food insecurity, educational and mental health needs and transportation issues. The number of survivors seeking housing assistance rose by 29% last year.

As the COVID-19 pandemic wanes, more survivors of violence and sexual assault are seeking care at local hospitals. In 2021, our staff made 23 visits to hospitals to assist survivors of domestic violence, while in 2022 that number jumped to 186 visits. From 2021 to now, the number of hospital visits our staff made to assist children seeking care after sexual assault rose by 64%; many of these children lived in households where domestic violence was present.

A 2023 survey of domestic violence programs across Ohio conducted by the Ohio Domestic Violence Network found that more than half were eliminating or reducing programs that focused on preventing domestic violence — even though our experience shows that targeted community education focused on healthy relationships and available resources can, in the long run, save taxpayers money.

With more support in place, a survivor may not become homeless. Maybe a victim gets help sooner, so their children don’t experience or witness abuse — and the cycle of violence and trauma won’t repeat itself in their lives. We can make huge strides in preventing domestic violence, if we have the funds to do it.

I urge the Ohio legislators to support effort by Ohio’s governor and attorney general to increase dedicated funding for domestic violence service by the $20 million suggested over the next two years — a first step toward bringing our state closer to spending parity with surrounding states. Currently, Ohio spends 32 cents per capita on domestic violence services, compared with 92 cents for Indiana, $1.41 for West Virginia, $1.56 for Pennsylvania and $2.54 for Kentucky.

The additional line-item funding would bring Ohio’s per capita rate up to 85 cents.

With lives on the line, now is the time to fully fund domestic violence shelters and services.

Teresa Stafford is chief executive officer of the Battered Women’s Shelter and Rape Crisis Center of Summit and Medina Counties

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Save lives by funding Ohio's domestic violence programs