VOICES: Ohio needs to spend more on domestic violence services, to save lives and protect children

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw at Project Woman big increases in the number of domestic violence survivors in the Springfield area seeking help through our advocacy programs and with requests for emergency shelter rising 54% from 2018 to 2019. Once COVID hit, the requests for help went up another 75%, in 2020 from people fleeing real danger, often with their children. Our emergency shelter facilities, with only 16 beds in Springfield and 8 in Urbana, stay constantly at capacity.

Because the need is so great, I can’t stress how important it is for the state’s legislators and its citizens to support a recommendation from Gov. Mike DeWine and Attorney General Dave Yost to include $20 million for domestic violence services in the Ohio budget for 2024-2025.

This additional funding is cost-effective. It will save taxpayers from spending more to deal the indirect costs of domestic violence – including law enforcement and emergency response, property damage, uninsured medical costs, lost wages and more. And with federal funding for Ohio’s domestic violence programs falling by a staggering 60% since 2019, additional state funding has never been more greatly needed.

Both the level and severity of violence have escalated in recent years – with economic insecurity and the isolation imposed by the pandemic piling on the pressure. Across Ohio, more than 36% of those seeking emergency shelter – 5,681 people – were turned away in 2022 because the shelters didn’t have available space to take them in.

Clark County already has a significant problem with homelessness – and the lack of affordable housing creates a significant problem for survivors of intimate partner violence. Because survivors have such a hard time finding safe, affordable housing, they stay longer at the emergency shelter or sometimes return to their abusers. Our agency is working with community partners to try to re-establish a safe house program that would help expand our overflow options.

With our 24-hour crisis line, case management and court advocacy programs, we are doing the best we can to respond to the rising needs. With limited dollars, it’s really hard. We need to hire more staff and to pay our workers more. With more funding, we could increase our efforts to build resiliency for survivors, provide empowerment education and focus on strengths, following the model of the Community Advocacy Program developed at the University of Illinois.

Through the Chrysalis program, we offer 9 transitional housing apartments in Springfield where survivors can stay for up to two years – offering job training and mentoring to the residents. It’s an investment in the future.

This isn’t just a policy discussion. Real lives are at stake – including those of children.

In the fiscal year ending June 2022, Ohio reported 81 victims killed in domestic violence cases, along with 31 perpetrators. The victims ranged in age from a 90-year-old woman to 22 children – the greatest number of children killed in domestic violence incidents ever in a year in Ohio. Six of those fatalities were just babies, including a day-old infant.

The additional $20 million in funding the governor is recommending would be a crucial first step in moving Ohio towards greater parity in domestic violence funding compared to the surrounding states. Currently, Ohio spends 32 cents per capita on domestic violence services, compared with 92 cents for Indiana, $1.41 for West Virginia, $1.56 for Pennsylvania and $2.54 for Kentucky.

The additional funding the governor and attorney general propose would bring Ohio’s per capita rate up to 85 cents.

Survivors of intimate partner abuse will tell you: it’s worth it, to prevent such deep trauma, and to save lives.

Laura Baxter is executive director of Project Woman, dedicated to ending domestic violence and sexual assault in the Springfield area.

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