Impasse in Washington Has N.H. Domestic Violence Advocates Worried

Jan 15, 2013

Credit Lawrence Jackson / via Wikimedia COmmons

Supporters of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) like to point out that since its passage in 1994, incidents of domestic violence are down by more than 50% nationwide.

But they also say this isn’t about stats, this is about people like Carrie Ann, who requested that her last name not be used.

"The abuse that I encountered was physical, mental, and sexual," she says. "It was constant, day-in-day out. By the end, I was virtually a prisoner. I wasn’t allowed to control my own finances. I couldn’t leave without fear that something truly horrific was going to happen."

For three years, Carrie Ann lived with an abusive boyfriend.  She’s 42-years old and says felt trapped, and disconnected from her friends and family.

"It’s like basically somebody breaking you down every day. Piece by piece. Until really they have such control over you, that you, honestly believe that you asked for this."

A year and a half ago, Carrie Ann finally asked for help. She landed at Bridges, a domestic violence center in Nashua that provides her an apartment and counseling. Bridges also runs a 24/7 hotline and emergency shelter. These services, in part, receive funding through the Violence Against Women Act.

"The VAWA has made a huge difference in the state of New Hampshire, and that is why you have seen so many people, from the court system to prosecutors to advocates to police chiefs step up and urge Congress the reauthorize the Act."

But re-authorization requires agreement. Last April, the Senate passed an updated version that domestic violence advocates praised. So did New Hampshire Senators Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen, who praised the bill on the Senate floor.

"The VAWA provides essentially resources for victims, and for law enforcement. And I was pleased to see so many of us here in the senate put politics aside and support this important reauthorization."

But Republicans in the House don’t like parts of the bill that spell out protections for gays, lesbians, and undocumented immigrants. There’s also disagreement on whether tribal courts should be able to prosecute non-Native defendants accused of assaulting Native Americans.

The House and Senate say they’ll continue negotiations in the new congress.

While that plays out, funding for the Violence Against Women Act does stay in place, at least in the short-term. For New Hampshire, that means more than a million dollars annually. Money that helps fund trainings for cops, prosecutors and judges.

Supporters caution, though, that in-action in Washington puts long-term resources at risk, and,more importantly, gives the wrong signal.

"It sends a very negative message about who we are, and what we stand for," says Susan Carbon, a circuit court judge in New Hampshire and former head of the Office on Violence Against Women at the U.S. Justice Department.

"It is a huge disappointment to so many people who have worked so hard on behalf of victims and on behalf of the services they need, and in setting the type of culture and expectation that we as a nation, stand for, in terms of repudiating violence." 

Carbon says the end goal of the Act is to make sure no victims slip through the cracks.

Victims like Carrie Ann, who says the services she received at Bridges in Nashua turned her life around.

"I just can’t believe that I would give that guy the time of day. I can’t believe it now. So that shows you how much things have changed in my own head, and the perception I have of myself. That’s the most important thing."