In Collin County, Texas, Dr. Christy Sim works diligently to serve the needs of survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. It’s not yet midday on a Tuesday, and her team at Stronger Than Espresso have already successfully connected two survivors to agencies for crisis support.
“We stand on the line between the faith community and the civil/social spaces funded by the Office on Violence Against Women who provide crisis care,” Sim, the executive director of Stronger Than Espresso, said.
The office administers grant programs established under the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA.
“Our community partners, who are funded by VAWA, provide an access to emergency services for people. Survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault really need these crisis services,” Sim said.
These services include 24-hour hotlines for providing immediate safety and active listening for those in crisis; emergency shelter and accommodations for families fleeing violence; basic needs such as food, resources, and clothes; crisis intervention work; personal advocacy for survivors trying to navigate the medical, court, and legal systems; and supportive counseling.
Now this critical help afforded to survivors is at great risk. The new administration has signaled interest in eliminating the VAWA grants from the federal budget, according to The Hill. In an attempt to reduce federal spending over the next 10 years, the budget plan — reportedly modeled from a blueprint produced by the Heritage Foundation — could follow its recommendation to abolish these grants, which it describes as “a misuse of federal resources and a distraction from concerns that are truly the province of the federal government.”
VAWA funds are critical to those who are working to help survivors leave violence and heal from abuse. VAWA funds support programs where pastors, police, teachers, and advocates usually refer the abused.
“If you take one city alone, like Dallas — without including the surrounding areas — in any given month anywhere from 639 to 1199 people are turned away from emergency services because we don’t have enough funding now,” Sim said.
“Imagine how much worse it would be if we lose funding from VAWA in the future. Right now we still can’t do enough and that is with VAWA funding. Our crisis partner support will be impacted severely and I fear we would see shelters close.”
As faith leaders, we have experienced what it’s like to hold someone’s hand who has endured abuse. Some of us have experienced gender-based violence first-hand. The Torah, the Quran, and the Bible affirm equality, and our faith convictions compel us to continue this fight to protect women and survivors of violence. So we can’t ignore the possibility of a proposal that could hurt the many women it was designed to protect.
We must pledge our voices to survivors — to the people who fought this fight before us; to those who will continue this fight after us; to those who have lost hope; and to those who are too tired to fight.
Our congregations and communities of faith frequently serve as spaces for healing for survivors of domestic violence, and will continue to do so. Without VAWA funding, faith leaders like Christy Sim in Dallas will have little to offer when the phone rings.