Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen joined U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley and local officials on Wednesday to urge the U.S. House of Representatives to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which would provide federal money to support domestic violence education and prevention.
The elected officials’ Feb. 20 call to action at the Gateway Center for Domestic Violence came on the heels of the Senate’s bipartisan 78-to-22 vote to reauthorize the act last week.
Locally, officials spoke of the essential financial support that the federal act provides to domestic violence programs in both Multnomah County and Oregon. In Multnomah County, the Violence Against Women Act allocated $1.2 million annually to pay for services that work to prevent and end violence in the community, including specialized police as well as prosecutors and emergency and transitional housing resources. Last year, Oregon received $9.5 million to fund such programs.
Since the federal act’s initial passage in 1994, reported domestic violence incidences have been cut in half, Sen. Merkley said. He attributed that success to domestic violence programs that receive money through the act. But the act is still needed, Sen. Merkley said, because a woman calls a domestic violence hotline every two minutes in Oregon to ask for help.
“Those grants reach into every corner of our state,” Sen. Merkley said. “They go to Prineville, they go to Tillamook, they go to La Grande, they go to Klamath Falls, they go to Eugene, they go to Portland. And those programs touch so many women’s lives.”
Chair Cogen said there is a tremendous need for such services. In its first year, the Gateway Center in Northeast Portland served more than 2,000 women. That number increased to 3,000 women in its second year of operation.
“The Violence Against Women Act should not be a political football,” Chair Cogen said. “This is something that is just about helping women get the services that they need to have a life of dignity. The Senate has acted, it has been a bipartisan mission up until this point, and it’s time for the House to pass this act. There’s no reason for women in this community, throughout Oregon or throughout this country to be hostage to politics.”
Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill said the Violence Against Women Act allows the District Attorney’s Office to dedicate a prosecutor to work with underserved communities, “many of whom face tragic forms of domestic violence, sexual abuse and even homicide.”
“Our county has a very diverse population,” Underhill said. “And because of the Violence Against Women Act funding, we at the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office are able to work more effectively with immigrant victims, victims with mental and developmental challenges, victims who are sexual minorities and victims who are in same-sex relationships.”
One domestic violence survivor, Susan Peik, shared her story of how she is rebuilding her life after having it ripped away by domestic violence. Peik moved to Oregon to escape abuse from a community outside Oregon where she couldn’t get help. She described her well-to-do community as one that didn’t allocate funds for domestic violence resources. Peik noted her community only had one, four-bedroom domestic violence shelter to serve a county of hundreds of thousands of people.
“It took a while for there to be space, and it forces you to stay in a situation that may be unsafe, and being in a situation like that, it basically eats away at you,” Peik said. “So the lack of resources forces you to stay. Economics sometimes forces you to stay, and you feel trapped.”
She said it was difficult for her to get a restraining order for her and her three children to be safe. It wasn’t until she moved to Oregon that she found the resources she needed at the Gateway Center.
Peik encouraged the U.S. House to pass the act saying it allows for education in the legal system, in schools and in the community.
“Domestic violence is nothing more than an advanced form of bullying, and we are working on that in our schools,” Peik said. “We need to heal from all the different strata. We need to heal the adults, we need to heal the perpetrators, we need to heal the victims.
“The Violence Against Women Act is an incredible opportunity for leadership to set a precedent in our nation and in our world because this is a global problem,” she said. “This is about healing humanity, this is about healing a huge rift in humanity. And it is helping, I am standing here and I’ve put my life back together because of it.”
For more information:
Gateway Center for Domestic Violence
Multnomah County Domestic Violence Coordination Office