At a recent Domestic Violence Awareness Month candlelight vigil, I read aloud the names of each of the women, men and children who have died in Massachusetts as a result of domestic violence in 2009. As I spoke each name, an event participant came forward to light and hold a candle in honor of that person. Soon, we had 23 people spanning the room. Their candles formed an arcing line of small, flickering flames, each one representing a life that had been extinguished by a spouse, family member or loved one.
As we brace ourselves for the upcoming state budget cuts, I think about these victims and their stories. The domestic violence shelter I direct, Renewal House, serves approximately 35 families or individuals per year, but we must turn away 95% of those who call our hotline due to lack of space. We refer them to other shelters in Massachusetts, but on many days all of the shelters are full. There are simply not enough domestic violence resources to keep up with demand.
This is not the time to cut services for domestic violence victims and their children.
Statistics tell us that one in four women will be victims of domestic violence during the course of their lives. The same is true for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals. Incidents of violence in the home tend to rise when we are at war or during times of high unemployment, and we are currently struggling with both. Sadly, but not unexpectedly, we are seeing a significant increase in domestic violence in Massachusetts and throughout the country.
Domestic violence occurs in all segments of society, transcending age, race, gender, social and economic status, and sexual orientation. Victims and perpetrators alike may live in your neighborhood, work at your office, or sit beside you at church. Victims often feel ashamed or embarrassed, suffering in silence for years with neither friends nor family aware of the abuse. Domestic violence shelters and related resources offer a way out for those who feel they have nowhere to turn.
At some point during our lives, each of us experiences loneliness, isolation, violence or fear. In the depths of our suffering, we need someone to say to us, “This is not the way life should be.” If we drastically cut funding for domestic violence resources, however, those suffering in silence may never hear that message of hope and empowerment. They may never encounter a voice that tells them every one of us deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, and that they can choose to make better lives for themselves.
My faith teaches me that we cannot simply turn away from those in need. If Massachusetts significantly reduces funding for domestic violence services, or eliminates it completely, as California recently did, who will be the messenger of hope and safety for those suffering from abuse?