This year the Department of Justice marks the 15 year anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which, among other things, created the Office of VIolence Against Women (OVW), an executive office charged with the mission of raising awareness of and eradicating violence directed at women. As part of the commemoration of the anniversary, and to highlight a renewed dedication and focus by the Obama administration to funding and partnership with local agencies, the Department of Justice hosted a bloggers call with Catherine Piere, Acting Director, Office of Violence Against Women and Associate Attorney General Tom Perelli. Care2.com was a part of that call.
The scope of OVW’s mission is as broad as the threat many women face daily–stalking, sexual assault, domestic abuse, and sexual harassment, and coordinating awareness campaigns and effective responses that suit urban, rural, and tribal areas is a significant challenge. In a good year the Office, and its local partners, face substantial funding challenges, cultural resistance to viewing violence against women broadly to encompass things like stalking and harassment, and difficulty getting its message to teen audience who are uniquely at risk of becoming victims of dating violence. Most would concede that we haven’t had many good years recently.
Thankfully the current administration, due in part to the significant efforts of Vice President Joe Biden in this area, understand the scope of these challenges. The administration has called for an additional $461 million in funding for OVW for fiscal year 2011 and an additional $100 million in funding for the crime victims fund. This represents a 29% funding increase from the 2010 budget and will go to administering a host of nearly 20 grant programs that further OVW’s mission. Some of the recent efforts worth highlighting include developing a healthy relationships curriculum for those who work with teens, partnering with groups who work with young men to help prevent unhealthy attitudes towards women from taking hold, and a series of outreach events on college campuses this March.
Both Acting Director Piere and Associate Attorney General Perelli were clear that these efforts are not designed to be simply ribbon-cutting events. Instead, they represent a call to action and a renewed dedication to public safety. In a world where one in four teens report being digitally sexually harassed, and when those targets are three times more likely to either drop out of school or contemplate suicide, the magnitude and reach of the problem cannot be overstated.
The call ended with a clear message–OVW knows it has a lot of work to do, and it intends to get it done. It was refreshing to hear of dollars going to actual programs for a change and to have the ear of an Office with a lot on its plate. OVW acknowledged that some of its biggest problems–like getting rural law enforcement and health services to work together–don’t have clear answers. And there was not enough time to begin to address problems facing some sexual assault victims like finding access to hospitals to process rape kits or ones that will administer emergency contraception, issues that highlight just how deep the issues surrounding sexual violence can go. But with additional funding and additional focus just maybe we can get there. Like so much with this administration, it is a start. Where it leads remains to be seen.
photo courtesy of Daniel Paquet via Flickr