By Regina Varolli
Thursday, August 20, 2009
A survivor of domestic violence is speaking out about what she calls the lack of accountability for how public anti-violence money is allocated. In her own case, she says no public funding was available to help her when she needed it.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Alexis A. Moore, founder of Survivors in Action in Oakland, Calif., is trying to follow the federal money for preventing domestic violence.
Moore, a 30-year-old law school student in Sacramento, Calif., began to wonder where the money was going after she found herself personally needing it, but not getting it.
Roughly four years ago, Moore had been living with an abusive man who threatened her and her relatives, saying he would come after them if she ever tried to leave.
In planning her escape, she had been counting on a local shelter to house--and hide--her. "I was turned away from the then-El Dorado County Women's Center, only to learn later they had enough funding to serve me at my most dire time of need," Moore recently told Women's eNews.
Kelly Plag, director of community affairs with the Center for Violence-Free Relationships--formerly the El Dorado County Women's Center--said the center's funding is a matter of open record.
"We have specific grant requirements and we report to our grantors," Plag said. She added that they "have all the numbers."
However, these numbers are not available on their Web site and grantees are not required by law to post their budgets or audit results publicly.
Since the enactment of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 1994, the federal government has channeled over a billion dollars into organizations that are required to provide assistance to victims of domestic violence. The VAWA Web site does post figures on grants awarded to specific organizations and the amount of each grant, but does not detail how the funds are expected to be spent.
This year's grants from the Recovery Act funds, including STOP (Services, Training, Officers, Prosecutors), Violence Against Women Formula Grant Program and the Transitional Housing Awards, are listed and broken down by recipient organization. In Recovery Act funding, totaling $134 million, STOP, which funds the training of members of law enforcement, received $60 million; organizations in California and New York received $4,659,839 million for transitional housing; and funding for State Coalitions totaled $6,250,000.
Federal law requires each organization receiving government funding to complete a semi-annual progress report that includes the numbers of grant-funded staff, people trained and victims served. The numbers of those seeking services who were not served, demographic data on clients and services provided are also required.
The Muskie School of Public Service, at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, receives all VAWA required reports and disseminates them in the form of data reports and narrative summaries to Congress.
However, the reports do not link individual organizations with any specific figures. Instead, they provide overall figures per grant program, such as grants for reducing violent crimes on campuses or grants for education and technical assistance.
These VAWA reports are available online at the VAWA Measuring Effectiveness Initiative, which is run by the Muskie School. However, there is no documentation on a per-organization basis.
The key difference between the reporting called for by Moore and existing VAWA reporting requirements is organization-specific information. Moore also wants more public access to this kind of information, which is not required by VAWA.
Reporting requirements are not for the Muskie School to determine. It operates under a mandate by Congress. So it would take a signal from Congress for the school to start breaking down its reports into more specific performance audits and for grantees to publicly post this information on Web sites, where donors and clients alike could easily check it.
Other survivors of abuse--Randi Rosen and Claudia Valenciana, two of the thousands of women involved with Survivors in Action--shared similar experiences with Women's eNews.
Both women report reaching out to the Coalition to End Family Violence in Oxnard, Calif. Rosen says her calls were not returned and Valenciana says she was denied assistance.
The Oxnard group's executive director, Laura Gonzales, told Women's that she was surprised by the stories and didn't understand how they happened. Gonzales said the group undergoes regular audits and reports to the VAWA Measuring Effectiveness Initiative on all government funding.
After President Barack Obama appointed Lynn Rosenthal to the newly created post of White House Advisor on Violence Against Women in June, Moore launched a petitioning effort that begins with an open letter to Rosenthal about the need to track public anti-violence funds.
The petition, on the Survivors in Action Web site, calls for auditing government grants. It also pushes for the creation of a federal committee to oversee government-funded groups and provide victims a public clearing house to document their experiences and file complaints.
The petition has just under 4,000 signatures. Moore says that once she gathers 10,000 she plans to take the petition to Congress and begin a lobbying campaign for changes in the VAWA reporting mandate, as well as the creation of a national clearing house.
The Survivors in Action Web site provides a list of organizations that have denied services to victims, including the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
At the Hotline, which receives 65 percent of its funding through federal grants, Retha Fielding, chief communications officer, said the group complies with rigorous auditing requirements.
"We just don't always have enough people to answer the phones," Fielding said, adding that the group received 255,047 calls in 2008 and was able to answer 212,216. In other words, 42,831 calls went unanswered.
Moore says her idea for a national clearing house for victims to report their experiences could help organizations, such as the national hotline, quantify the extent to which they can't keep up with service demand.
If organizations are unable to serve victims due to a lack of funding, keeping a public record of these cases could lead to more funding to meet the needs of victims, Moore says.
In cases where victims are unjustifiably denied services, the clearing house would provide donors and grant-makers--including the federal government--the ability to measure the effectiveness of service providers and base their funding decisions on actual experiences.
At a time when domestic violence funding across the board is being slashed under budget pressures, Moore admits her Web site might be consider ill-timed by service providers who are feeling hard-pressed.
"It's not easy speaking out," said Moore. "But I'm not here to make friends; I'm here to make sure no victim is ever left behind."
Regina Varolli is a freelance writer and editor based in Manhattan, and the owner of Words by Regina Varolli and Co. She blogs at Culinary Sagacity and Political Sagacity.
Alexis A. Moore, Survivors in Action
VAWA Measuring Effectiveness Initiative
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