EVERYDAY, REQUESTS FOR HELP FROM ABOUT 250 VICTIMS AND CHILDREN GO UNMET IN WISCONSIN.
1. Maintain, Strengthen and Expand Core Services
Core services to victims of domestic violence are underfunded in the state of Wisconsin.
As a result, even while many victims of domestic violence get lifesaving help, every day in our state some victims of domestic violence and their children go without critical assistance. The gap in funding has grave consequences on a daily basis in Wisconsin.
The National Domestic Violence Census is an attempt to measure, on a given day each year, the state of domestic violence victim services across the county. Every Wisconsin domestic violence victim service provider participated in the 2013 Census on September 17 of that year. On that day, 2,072 victims and their children received lifesaving help, but 247 victims and children who were asking for help, did not get the assistance they needed because programs lacked funding and capacity. Taking the Census as representative of a single day in Wisconsin, we estimate that close 100,000 requests of help from victims are not met on an annual basis in Wisconsin because services are not adequately funded.
The funding gap is also evident in the number of victims turned away from shelter annually. Approximately 45% of victims requesting shelter in Wisconsin are turned away because the shelter is full. More specifically, in the 2013 annual reporting period, 3,736 adult victims were sheltered in Wisconsin, but close to 3,000 requests for shelter were not able to be fulfilled, forcing victims to either remain with abusers, to become homeless or to enter into other desperate housing situations.
The Wisconsin Governor’s Council on Domestic Abuse’s Fair Minimum Budget helps quantify the extent to which services for victims are underfunded. The Governor’s Council developed the Fair Minimum Budget as a tool to gauge a fair and reasonable agency budget for an organization providing the statutorily required core services to victims of domestic abuse, services to children and services to meet the needs of underserved populations. In Wisconsin, only eight local agencies have the resources to meet the Fair Minimum. Wisconsin will need an additional $19.7 million annual investment to meet the Fair Minimum standard.
Numbers and statistic cannot show the other ways in which a lack of adequate resources prevents Wisconsin from meeting the needs of victims and creating a safer state. Funding shortfalls prevent victims from receiving a comprehensive set of services that can help them rebuild their lives and remain financially and emotional independent of abusers.
Respondents to the planning surveys were near-universal in describing a few key and persistent barriers to victims’ safety that are not being adequately addressed:
On our waiting list is a mother with two small children. She was physically, emotionally, and sexually abused by her ex, who is now stalking and threatening her. Currently, she is living with a friend, but it’s not a permanent solution because her friend might lose the apartment if the landlord finds that there are too many people living there. The individuals and families that seek shelter are often fleeing from severe violence and threats, and need immediate emergency shelter and other services.
Survivors, advocates and community partners say the lack of affordable and stable housing keeps victims trapped in abusive situations and partially explains overflows in Wisconsin domestic violence shelters. A domestic violence victim in Wisconsin who earns minimum wage needs to work 81 hours a week to afford a two bedroom apartment for herself and her children at the market rate. Many victims are not able to find higher paying employment when leaving abusive relationships because of their victimization. Abusive partners often sabotage victims’ educational and employment opportunities as a way to keep victims isolated and dependent. And even if a victim is able to do a bit better and earn a higher wage, housing may still not be affordable. The average wage for a renter in Wisconsin is $11.42 an hour. A victim earning this wage would need to work 52 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom apartment at the fair market average price in our state.
In addition to trapping victims in abusive homes, the lack of stable and affordable access to housing has serious consequences for victims who do leave. Research shows that housing instability can magnify emotional and physical impacts of trauma for victims. Abused women’s housing difficulties, such as moving frequently or facing an eviction, are associated with a greater likelihood that she will suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, decreased productivity and higher need for medical attention.
The lack of affordable housing for victims and their children is a complicated problem that requires a multifaceted solution. The problem must be addressed by policies that promote economic equity, opportunity and that increase quality affordable housing stock in Wisconsin. Domestic violence service providers should also have the resources to play a direct role in creating more opportunities for victims to find affordable housing.
Service providers need more capacity to work with victims to address underlying barriers to achieving their full potential. Victims must be safe and heal from the immediate effects of physical and emotional trauma before they can realize higher earning potential. Some victims, especially those who have been subject to financial exploitation and abuse, need extra help with finances. Wisconsin domestic violence victim service providers incorporate financial empowerment and literacy services into their offerings. A few agencies have specific programs that focus on job-readiness and training. One program offers a matched savings program. However, many service providers have limited opportunities to expand to meet the need in this area because they are struggling just to maintain crisis response services.
In addition, Wisconsin should look to expand the transitional and affordable housing options for victims of domestic violence. Transitional housing programs that combine longer-term housing stability with service delivery have an important role to play in Wisconsin’s response to domestic violence. A victim who experiences housing instability soon after leaving a domestic violence shelter is more vulnerable to return to the abuser or experience another abusive relationship. Transitional and affordable housing programs address this problem and have transformed the lives of survivors and their children.
Affordable Housing and Economic Equity
Lifetime exposure to trauma has an adverse effect on victims’ mental health and wellness. Domestic violence victimization leads to a significantly higher risk of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide attempts and drug abuse. Giving victims the opportunities to live healthy, violence-free lives requires that service providers offer both crisis response and services to address the impact that abuse has had on victims’ mental health. Wisconsin victim service providers have embraced holistic, trauma-informed service delivery models that account for various ways trauma affects victims.
However, as a general matter, service providers have not been able to offer victims access to services to meet the full set of victim needs. Survivors, advocates and community partners who responded to the planning survey noted that domestic violence victim service providers do not have the resources to address longer-term mental health and substance abuse issues because providers are struggling to meet the immediate crisis needs of other victims.
Mental Health and Drug and Alcohol Dependency
As noted, core services to domestic violence victims in Wisconsin necessarily include services that are specific to the diverse populations of our state. Survivors and advocates noted what is confirmed by research literature: victims are more likely to reach out for help from organizations that understand their culture, language and background. In addition, effective advocacy requires the ability to understand how a victim’s culture affects her or his sense of identity, notions of family, and values. Therefore, funding for domestic violence victim services in Wisconsin must include support for culturally-specific services, so that services in Wisconsin are relevant and effective for every victim and every child.
Advocates and victims described a two-fold challenge: increasing the capacity of every domestic violence service provider to offer culturally and linguistically-informed services to every victim who walks through the door, and to increase funding for services that are created and driven by culturally-specific groups in our state.
In Wisconsin, the need to empower marginalized communities is especially acute. Wisconsin often ranks at or near the top of racial disparity indicators. For example, a 2014 study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children, found that Wisconsin is last in the nation for wellbeing of African American children. Racial disparities for other nonwhite groups, though not as severe, are also unacceptably high.
While these facts may not seem to have a direct relationship to domestic violence victim services, they reveal that generations of racism still ravage Wisconsin communities. These lasting effects drastically limit the opportunities that people of color in Wisconsin who are victims of domestic violence have for safety and health. In addition, years spent struggling against the gravity of our state’s racially uneven playing field amplify the trauma many domestic abuse victims in Wisconsin experience. Although the moral imperative to eliminate racial disparities in our state is a much larger project, investment in culturally relevant and specific services for families experiencing domestic violence is a necessary step toward that goal.
Feedback from survivors, advocates and community partners indicated that other groups of Wisconsinites have difficulty accessing services. Older victims, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) victims, and teens were identified as particularly underserved in Wisconsin. Older victims face unique barriers when accessing services. They are more likely to be isolated and less likely to know that services are available for them. Older adults who are victims may have particular vulnerabilities and needs that require specialized training and attention. As the population of our state ages, it will become even more critical that domestic abuse programs are supported to develop capacity to serve this population. Services to teens and LGBT victims are addressed in greater detail elsewhere in the Plan.
Services for All Communities and All People
Achieve Fair Minimum standards by investing $19.7 million annually into core services, which includes services culturally-specific populations.
Expand Core services to better address the most common barriers to independence and safety for victims and their children, particularly to support programs that provide services for affordable housing, economic empowerment and the mental health effects of trauma.
Continue to invest in services to underserved populations and culturally-specific programs so that every Wisconsinite who may be a victim of domestic violence feels comfortable seeking services that are relevant to her or his experiences.
Making minimum wage, a domestic violence survivor has to work 81 hours a week to afford the average two-bedroom apartment in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin ranks last for well-being of African-American children. This crisis reveals our state's racially uneven playing field and is indicative of the even steeper battle that many adults and children in Wisconsin face when dealing with domestic abuse.
Wisconsin's population ages 65 and over will approximately double between 2010 and 2040. Survivors and advocates indicated that there is a shortage of services tailored to older victims. As the state's population ages, the need for these services will continue to grow.