The attention given to the Ray Rice domestic violence scandal has prompted more victims to seek services, overloading a system that turns down more than 170,000 requests for shelter each year.
When a video of the former Baltimore Ravens’ running back’s actions — knocking his then fiancee and now wife unconscious — was leaked to media last month, it created a firestorm of people sharing their stories of abuse on Twitter with the hashtags #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft.
“It’s created a huge public dialogue the likes I’ve never seen in 40 years,” said Kim Gandy, president and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence. “So many people are not just revealing that they’ve been victims, but their friends and family are revealing it. That’s just been tremendous because that will make a tremendous difference.”
The sharing appears to have given people in abusive relationships the courage to reach out. Calls to the national hotline increased 85 percent in September from the previous month.
The response is highlighting a problem Gandy and other domestic violence advocates have known about for years: Funding losses and stagnant federal appropriations have left many shelters, especially rural ones, unable to meet the need.
Although shelters across the nation provided 7.7 million shelter nights for domestic violence victims and their families in 2012, there were about 174,450 unmet requests for shelter, according to the Federal Family and Youth Services Bureau.
Nancy Neylon describes funding for domestic violence as a patchwork quilt.
As executive director of the Ohio Domestic Violence Network, Neylon interacts with Ohio’s domestic violence shelters, whose funding comes from a $17 fee tacked onto marriage licenses and a $32 fee on filings of annulments, divorces and dissolutions in the counties where they are located.
“For some counties, they only get $10,000, and that doesn’t even buy an advocate (for a year),” Neylon said.
Most other funds come through charitable giving and competitive grants for federal funds. Gandy said funding often comes down to who writes the best grant application, not who has the most need or provides the best services. And groups with the best applications tend to be larger agencies that spend money to hire a grant writer, she added.
“The whole system needs an overhaul in a big way,” Gandy said.
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office has two funds for agencies that serve victims, which includes domestic violence agencies. The funding stream has been steady, about $5.7 million, but recipient amounts have varied.
Another steady funding stream comes from the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act. Funding amounts for states are based on overall population; states determine how to award the money. In Ohio, funds are competitive, require a local match and are capped at $50,000.
Whereas those two funding sources have been stagnant, funding through the Office on Violence Against Women has declined about 12 percent from 2011 to 2012 and another 5 percent in 2013. Recipients are typically coalitions or metropolitan agencies such as the YWCA of Cincinnati, which received one grant in 2013 and two in 2011.
Revenue, services take a hit
While most federal grant funding remained stagnant, Gandy said, other resources, such as community foundations, took a hit during the Great Recession.
When the stock market crashed, it decreased agencies ability to give as much because investment earnings determine the amount available to give.
The recession also made individual donors more cautious because they were unsure whether their jobs would still be around next week, she added.
“There are some places where (funding) came back, but there are some places that are in the hole. Level funding isn’t going to get them out,” Gandy said.
Each September, in preparation for Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October, Gandy’s group conducts a one-day census of domestic violence agencies across the nation. On Sept. 17, 2013, agencies reported they were unable to meet a combined 9,641 requests for services.
Of those unmet requests, 60 percent were for housing. Financial assistance and legal representation were the other primary services shelters reported they could not meet that day.
Funding was cited for the reason women were turned away: 27 percent reported loss of government funding, 20 percent reported not enough staff and 30 percent reported cuts from either private or individual funding sources.
According to The Woodlands’ tax filings, its 2012 revenue was 30 percent less than 2009, but its contributions and grants revenue was 51 percent less.
Part of the revenue decrease came in fiscal year 2011, when The Woodlands lost about $6,400 in state administered funds dedicated to victims of crime.
Tricia Hufford, executive director of The Woodlands, said that, between 2009 and 2012, the agency saw contributions from individuals go down, most likely because of the downturn in the economy.
“Some of the folks that, during the Christmastime, would give us individual contributions, those didn’t happen,” she said.
Donations and contributions have begun increasing again, something Hufford said grant funds have not done.
“For many years, we’ve applied for the same state grant funds,” Hufford said. “The caps on those never increase, but our expenses increase.”
Hufford said that, for the first time this year, the Ohio Attorney General Office’s victims of crime services program allowed agencies to ask for an increase.
While funds for services are available, Hufford said, she hopes that, at some point, there will be more funds available for prevention programs.
The Rice effect
Gandy last week penned a blog for The Hill addressing Congress, saying that, often, the answer to #WhyIStayed was because the shelter was full.
She wants legislators to dedicate more resources and drive the Twitter conversation toward #HowIHelped.
She raised concerns that federal appropriations for Family Violence Prevention and Services Act funds this year are $40 million below the $175 million authorization.
Gandy said the key to getting legislators to listen is for victims to continue sharing their stories.
“You can’t do this 40 years without being an optimist,” Gandy said of what the long-term effect of the Rice incident may be. “I have to believe the public discussion, the realization of the need … will have an impact on (officials) making decision on who and what and when to fund services.”
The publicity is at least spreading awareness and prompted the NFL to plan for education and prevention, an area often cut by struggling domestic violence agencies, Neylon said.
The NFL also gave money to help boost staffing for the national hotline, and Gandy’s group has called on teams to wear purple — the signature color for domestic violence awareness — throughout this month.
Neylon hopes the NFL will continue its interest and embrace domestic violence prevention as a message its players carry to fans, young and old.
“I’m hoping for that kind of social change. That will have even more significant change to me than funding,” Neylon said. “Only time will tell.”
The Advocate’s Bethany Bruner contributed to this report
Domestic violence cases filed