Guest Blog: Montana Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence

Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Why the state budget matters to end domestic and sexual violence

During the 2017 legislative session, the Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence (MCADSV) and our member programs focused on passing bills concerning the definition of consent in our sexual assault statutes, statute of limitations for child sex abuse victims, strangulation in the context of domestic violence, and many other enhancements to the criminal/legal context. These issues and the legislation that came out of the 2017 session are vitally important to protecting Montanans who are victims of domestic and sexual violence, but a lesser known – and perhaps lesser understood – aspect of the work we do to advocate for survivors of domestic and sexual violence happens in the state budget process. We work in collaboration with other interest groups to ensure a responsible state budget and prevent further cuts to essential health and human services for some of the most vulnerable people in our state. We encourage the state to put more resources towards victim services and safety net programs.

Since October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we’d like to take the time to explain why the state budget matters to those of us who want to end domestic violence in Montana.

There are a wide range of social services, health and human service resources, and benefits through the Montana Department of Health and Human Services (DPHHS) that support survivors of violence in our state. While these resources do not exclusively go to survivors, they are crucial to giving survivors stability, support, and a pathway to independence in order to leave abusive relationships and prevent returning to an abuser.

Here are some examples:

A woman lives with her boyfriend. He is abusive. She wants to leave the relationship, but she relies on this abuser for financial security because he has prevented her from earning a personal income. This woman is less likely to have the resources to support herself and to leave because she cannot afford to pay for rent, food, transportation, and health care for herself.

A single mother has three children. She left the home that she shared with her partner because he was verbally and physically abusive to the children and to her. She took the kids with her to live in a different town. While she does work full-time, she does not make enough to pay the rent, pay for groceries, and make sure the kids have winter coats this year. Her access to the local public assistance office and ability to talk to someone about nutrition assistance, health care for her kids, and transportation to go buy children’s clothes means that she can continue to live on her own, support her kids, and stay away from the abuser.

Survivors of violence need access to mental health care for emotional and psychological support. They may be struggling with addiction issues as a result of the violence they’ve endured. They need access to basic primary health care as well as reproductive care. In much of our state these support systems are non-existent or very difficult to access, especially as cuts have been made to rural communities across Montana in the last two years. Survivors of violence are suffering without access to support systems. And domestic violence shelters are overwhelmed and unable to connect survivors to the health-related services they need.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month is just one opportunity each year to learn and advocate for the ways we can all work to prevent domestic and sexual violence in our communities. It is also a key time for us to learn about the tools that are already available to us in Montana to support survivors. If our state does not invest in the key resources and health and human services available in our communities, we cannot possibly prevent cycles of violence and successfully support Montanans who need to leave abusive relationships.

At MCADSV, we want to end domestic violence, but we know it won’t happen only through trainings, awareness events, and issue-specific legislation. The Montana legislature needs to step up and make sure that we fully fund the state resources that are an essential tool in supporting survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

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