The Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women is worried its funding for shelters and outreach programs is in jeopardy. The Legislature trimmed funding for such programs during the last session. The coalition wants legislators and candidates running for office to know domestic violence has not gone away.
"Domestic violence and sexual assault programs took a far greater hit than other non-profit programs."
- Karmit Bulman, director of the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women
At one time legislators promised an additional $1 million for each of the next two years. But at the end of the session they reduced that amount to $400,000.
Karmit Bulman, the director of the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, says the state actually leads the nation in resources for battered women. But she says the problem is still very real.
"This past year at the Legislature was a wake up call to us," Bulman says. "While we may have developed innovative programs in this state, we are not secure in our funding or the support we have for these programs. Domestic violence and sexual assault programs took a far greater hit than other non-profit programs."
But state officials disagree. Mary Ellison, the executive director for the Minnesota Center for Crime Victim Services, says the cuts were felt all over.
"They cut human services programs, crime victims programs. This was one of the cuts made by the Legislature," Ellison says. "I think realistically they're saying because we've been generous, because we've added funding to this area over the years, it's not unreasonable in a time of a budget crunch that this would experience a cut."
"They cut human services programs, crime victims programs. This was one of the cuts made by the legislature. I think realistically they're saying because we've been generous because we've added funding to this area over the years it's not unreasonable in a time of a budget crunch that this would experience a cut."
- Mary Ellison, the executive director for the Minnesota Center for Crime Victim Services
Ellison explains the funding mechanism has changed. Individual counties used to negotiate with shelters and other outreach programs. Now the Legislature has capped the total amount of money available for battered women program funding. Advocates argue these programs should not have to deal with this funding restriction.
Ellison says in addition to state funding, some individual programs also rely on corporate and charitable contributions. So some shelters lost donations because times are tough.
Ellison says a new governor and new legislators could change the outlook. But she says whoever occupies those seats will face the same budget situation.
"So unless the economy improves significantly and tax collections improve significantly, we're going to be facing a budget crisis," Ellison says.
The funding cut worries many advocates, including Linda Riddle. She's helped battered women and children for 15 years. She became passionate about the cause because she was a victim herself. At one time Riddle was abused by her husband.
"It was a long time ago," she says. "I was living a very rural lifestyle, in a situation where I was very isolated with young children."
It was 1986, and Riddle was running for state representative.
"The violence became really severe after the election," she recalls. "A lot of people think someone who is a candidate for public office couldn't possibly be a battered woman. But I campaigned that summer and fall with a broken rib."
Riddle says it was difficult to leave her husband. But eventually she realized it was more dangerous for her and her children to stay.
She called the Winona Resource Center for help. The staff helped her find the courage to leave, and the center eventually gave her a job. Today, Riddle directs Houston County Women's Resources. It provides help to women in southeastern Minnesota.
"It's not about anger. These same men don't go and lose control and beat up their bosses or beat up their co-workers. "
- Karmit Bulman, Director of the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women
Riddle says she's seen the need for services grow each year, but the funding for the battered women's program has plateaued. According to the American Bar Association, nearly one in three adult women experience at least one physical assault by a partner. Last year in Minnesota, police reported 32 women and 11 children died as a result of domestic violence.
Riddle says in rural areas like Houston County, battered women have few options. More than half of the state's 24 shelters are in the Twin Cities metro area. That leaves only about one shelter for every eight rural counties. Houston County does not have a shelter, but Riddle says it does have a network of safe homes where women and children can stay.
According to the Minnesota Center for Crime Victim Services, more than 12,000 abused women and children were sheltered in 2001. Coalition director Karmit Bulman is concerned the program won't be able to help as many women if its funding is cut.
"I think it's likely women will have to leave their communities and go to other cities, or even possibly other states, to find shelter," she says.
But the costs of domestic violence go beyond the victims. Houston County Women's Resources director Linda Riddle says the ripple effect of domestic violence is felt everywhere.
"The costs to the criminal justice system, medical (costs) - domestic violence is the number one reason that women go to emergency rooms," she explains. "Emergency room costs affect health care costs. That affects our insurance. Children in schools - kids who are living in violent homes have a lot more to think about than what's on the blackboard."
Riddle says she's trying to raise awareness about domestic abuse through community outreach programs. She says it's a societal problem, not a private issue.
Coalition director Karmit Bulman says domestic violence is often misunderstood. Bulman says it's about power and control.
"It's not about anger," she says. "These same men don't go and lose control and beat up their bosses or beat up their co-workers."
The Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women will hold domestic abuse issue forums for legislative, gubernatorial, and senate candidates later this month. The coalition hopes to educate lawmakers and voters on the importance of funding battered women's programs.More from MPR