By G. Michael Dobbs
HOLYOKE Massachusetts has a terrible distinction shared by no other state: a doubling in the number of deaths from domestic violence.
This increase has prompted the Western Massachusetts members of a statewide coalition to call more funding of services for the victims of domestic violence.
Meeting in the offices of Womanshelter/Companeras the domestic violence shelter that services much of Hampden and Hampshire counties Womanshelter Executive Director Karen Cavanaugh, along with the directors of Safe Passage in Northampton, Everywoman's Center from the University of Massachusetts and the new England Learning Center for Women in Transition, called for support of budget amendments that would add state funding for domestic violence services and domestic violence and sexual assault prevention and treatment services.
Cavanaugh said, for years, domestic violence programs have either been level-funded or have been decreased.
In 2005 there were 15 murders from domestic violence. That figure has increased to 42 in 2007, according to information supplied by Jane Doe Inc., the state's coalition against sexual assault and domestic violence. The group also reported that year to date, there have been 17 murders in the Commonwealth and there has also been an increase in sexual assault.
No one understands why Massachusetts alone has seen this kind of increase, Cavanaugh added.
Cavanaugh said that programs such as the ones operated by the four groups save lives by allowing women and their children to escape from dangerous situations. Additional funding would not only allow more people to be served, but help publicize that programs exist.
According to Jane Doe Inc., due to the long term impact on funding cuts from domestic violence programs only one in seven women has the chance of finding an emergency shelter.
Cavanaugh said according to recent statistics, the vast majority of the domestic violence murder victims have not been connected to a domestic violence program.
"There are people we aren't reaching because we don't have the resources to be there," Cavanaugh said.
Mary Anne Winters of the Everywoman Center said additional funding would help more advocates for victims in courts and hospitals.
"Collectively as a society we need to make the choice to support safety," she said.
Last year, the 18-member staff at Womanshelter provided 1,000 people with "face-to-face" service, Cavanaugh said. There were 4,000 calls on the agency's hotline.
Eighty-six percent of the agency's operating budget goes for paying for core services, she added.
"It really is time for more than just sympathy from the Legislature," Cavanaugh said. "I understand the state has fiscal concerns but we need to prioritize."
Women seeking help should call Womanshelter's 24-hour hotline at 1-877-536-1628.
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