Sue Else, Rep. Donna Edwards and Lynn Rosenthal

(WOMENSENEWS)–Vice President Joe Biden’s June 26 announcement of a White House Advisor on Violence Against Women stirred some public grumbling about President Barack Obama’s recent "czar frenzy."

Bonnie Erbe, at U.S. News and World Report, complained in her blog that these advisors without any budgets–"a drug czar, a U.S. border czar, an urban czar, a regulatory czar, a stimulus accountability czar"–are just titles with limited influence.

Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, the longest-serving senator in history, worried that such advisors–who don’t have to get approved by Congress–may upset the system of checks and balances, reported CBS.

But at a time of rising pressure on domestic violence shelters, representatives of two of the largest advocacy groups for ending domestic violence were far more enthusiastic about the creation of the post. They were also excited at the naming of Lynn Rosenthal, a former executive director at the New Mexico Coalition against Domestic Violence in Albuquerque, with a substantial resume of safety advocacy and working ties to Biden.

"I am thrilled that President Obama has established the White House Advisor on Violence Against Women," said Rita Smith, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, based in Denver. "I have been working in this field since 1981 and this is the first time an administration has made this level of commitment to ending violence against women, girls, men and boys."

Rosenthal could not be reached for comment through the White House press office.

Position Brings Groups Together

Smith said the position–to advise Biden and Obama and serve as the go-between for advocacy groups and the government, according to a White House statement–creates the chance to improve coordination among federal agencies with overlapping responsibilities for curbing violence against women.

Rosenthal will be expected to work with the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Violence Against Women, the Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Agency for International Development and Congress to implement new policies and procedures for reducing domestic violence cases across the country, the White House Press release stated.

"By creating this position, the White House is demonstrating an unprecedented effort to end domestic and sexual violence," said Sue Else, president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, or NNEDV, where Rosenthal served as executive director from 2000 to 2006. "Her expertise will help to shape federal policies that will serve countless survivors of domestic and sexual violence. We have worked closely with Lynn for many years and we very much look forward to continuing our lifesaving work together."

The National Network to End Domestic Violence has 56 coalitions that represent every state, territory and the District of Columbia. The network assists those coalitions to build their capacity for anti-violence work.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence assists the more than 2,000 local programs to stay connected with each other.

Rosenthal, as a White House advisor, could assist in the elimination of conflicting rules and regulations among federal agencies. Else points to confidentiality requirements that limit what local programs may report to other agencies and information federal housing agencies require to expedite a family’s placement.

She hopes Rosenthal will untangle such issues.

Despite Rosenthal’s lack of a budget, Else says she is confident she’ll manage to get a lot done. "Lynn has been a champion of this work for years, on all levels. She knows what’s happening in the field, on the national level and now on the federal level."

Shelters Experience Increased Need

Seventy-five percent of domestic violence shelters in the United States reported an increase in women seeking aid between September 2008 and April 2009, according to an April report by the Dallas-based Mary Kay Ash Charitable Foundation.

While she was at the National Network to End Domestic Violence Rosenthal worked with Biden, then a senator, to secure congressional approval of funding reauthorizations–in 2005 and 2000–for the Violence Against Women Act, which Biden authored in 1994. The act gave $1.6 billion, disbursed over six years, to enhance investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women.

Also during Rosenthal’s tenure at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, Jennifer Kuhn, corporate relations manager of the AllState Foundation, credits her with helping the foundation, based in Northbrook, Ill., create a program to improve battered women’s financial security.

The Economics Against Abuse program, with an annual budget of $3.5 million, funds the AllState Foundation’s campaigns for economic abuse awareness and their Economic Empowerment Grant Program. The program supports state coalitions and Allstate local representatives to work together to develop or enhance projects that address the multitude of economic challenges that survivors face. It also financially supports an education and job training assistance fund, which provides funds directly to individuals to help get them back on track.

"As a financial company we realized that the financial barriers are the barriers that prevent women from leaving abusive relationships," said Kyle Donash, communications consultant at the Allstate Foundation. "They have no way of obtaining an apartment and taking themselves and their children to safety."

Making the Economic Abuse Connection

When the effects of financial abuse are pointed out to people, they realize that this is often what prevents women from leaving abusive relationships, says Donash. They also realize it is the hardest thing to overcome.

A recent national poll by the Allstate Foundation found that while 70 percent of Americans know people who are or have been victims of domestic violence, almost the same percentage fail to see the connection between economic abuse and domestic violence.

Kuhn praised Biden’s leadership and passion for ending violence against women and said the foundation was ready to work with any organization–nonprofit, government or academic–to help end economic abuse.

Earlier in her career, in 1996, Rosenthal served as director of Refugee House, a project under the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, based in Denver. The project helps refugees find affordable housing by coordinating resettlement agencies, refugees and ethnic community-based organizations.

She went on to serve as director for the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, where she won Florida Governor’s Peace at Home Award for making a difference in the lives of battered women and their children in 1999.

Kayla Hutzler, a journalism major at Manhattan College, is an editorial intern with Women’s eNews.

For more information:

National Network to End Domestic Violence

Heal Africa

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Violence Against Women Act

AllState Foundation Economics Against Abuse Act