Prince George’s County officials and advocates for domestic violence victims said they are worried that gridlock in Congress could jeopardize essential services to victims and their families.
Members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have not yet been able to agree on the reauthorization of the federal Violence Against Women Act, originally passed in 1994, which provides federal grants to local law enforcement and nonprofit groups in their efforts to address domestic violence. Representatives for county agencies and nonprofit organizations said they fear the stalemate could cause them to lose the funding they could receive under the law.
U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said nonprofit and government organizations in Prince George’s County received $4 million in VAWA funding last year, through a total of 91 federal grants. Nonprofit representatives said many of their resources for Latino and other foreign-language victims are a result of VAWA grants.
County State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks (D) said her office has two VAWA-funded employees, one of which is an attorney that handles domestic violence cases. But the largest impact will be to the outreach and support efforts for victims, particularly in the Latino community, by her office and various nonprofit organizations, she said.
“There’s a great reluctance among some victims, because they fear their immigration status will be considered and they’ll be somehow harmed if they come forward,” Alsobrooks said. “...That’s why we’re actively involved with training police and reaching out to our faith communities.”
According to statistics provided by John Erzen, spokesman for the county state’s attorney’s, the office handled nearly 3,000 cases tied to domestic violence in 2011. Among the charges were six homicides, 10 first-degree assaults, 919 second-degree assaults, 179 sex offenses and 187 violations of protective orders, he said.
Sandi Timmins, executive director of the Baltimore-based Maryland chapter of House of Ruth, a group dedicated to helping and, in some cases, sheltering victims of domestic violence, said the loss of VAWA funding would severely affect service for non-English speakers. Malinda Miles, executive director of the Brentwood-based Family Crisis Center, also said her group’s bilingual services are funded by the law.
“Most of the work that is funded by VAWA is Latino community-based,” Timmins said. “We service 1,500 non-English speakers, which makes up about 15 percent of our client base. [Losing this funding] would have a strong impact on our ability to serve that community.”
Republicans have expressed concern over expansions for the act that would add outreach to American Indian tribes and provide added protections to same-sex couples and illegal immigrants. Lisa Wright, spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R), said the legislation as passed by the Senate makes it harder for local leaders to fight domestic violence wherever it is found.
“By categorizing and vulcanizing women and micromanaging, it removes the flexibility and removes resources that could be directed at all women of risk,” Wright said.
Cardin advocated for the passage of the Democratic-backed Senate version of the reauthorization of the law, to provide certainty to local government and nonprofit agencies.
“We need to clear this avenue to help the states to have certainty,” Cardin said. “Violence against women occurs in every community. It’s very widespread and it has got to be eliminated.”