Twenty-one years ago, the Athens Police Department began receiving federal dollars through the Violence Against Women Act to support women affected by violence and abuse. However, possible budget cuts from President Donald Trump's administration could change that.
In a "budget blueprint" for 2017, the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, suggested cutting dollars to the program. Athens Police Chief Tom Pyle said such a cut would negatively impact his department and would be a “serious, serious mistake for the country.” The Office for Violence Against Women, an agency within the Justice Department, oversees 25 grant programs aimed at reducing violence against women.
“It’s imperative that we do keep funding in the budget for VAWA,” Molly Burchfield, a social worker and victim advocate at the Athens Police Department, said.
The department receives $60,000 in grant money, with a 25 percent cash match from the city. Burchfield, whose position is funded by that money, assists victims of crimes such as domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. Even though she works for the city, she helps victims throughout the county.
“There is a very large need for our services,” Burchfield said.
Pyle said Burchfield started working for APD at the same time the department began receiving the grant money. The money also funds, in part, the salary of a detective who works with Burchfield.
“I would be the first person in council requesting that the city offset the loss of funds completely so we can maintain our licensed social worker position vis-à-vis Molly,” Pyle said.
Burchfield’s work includes going to court with victims and helping them navigate the process. Pyle said she also helps follow up with victims after their first interaction with the police so they don’t feel lost or ignored. Burchfield said she averages about 150 to 250 clients a year.
“Her work is irreplaceable,” Pyle said. “The position is irreplaceable, in my opinion.”
My Sister’s Place, a domestic violence shelter in Athens, receives about $45,000 in VAWA grant money a year through Ohio’s Office of Criminal Justice Services. Kelly Cooke, executive director of My Sister’s Place, said the shelter has received grant money for at least 15 years.
The Office of Criminal Justice Services has gotten nearly $47.5 million in grant money over the past decade, according to data from the Office for Violence Against Women.
The money funds the shelter’s clinical services, including the salaries of two counselors and the clinical supervisor.
“We would no longer have funding for counseling, which would be a huge loss for us and for our clients,” Cooke said.
Everyone who stays in the shelter receives counseling, Cooke said. Last year, My Sister’s Place provided counseling services to 43 people in the shelter and an additional 39 people through its outreach counseling program.
Cooke said if federal money through VAWA gets cut, the shelter wouldn’t be able to financially support the counseling without making cuts to other services.
Burchfield said funding for violence against women has been at risk before, but people call their elected officials and pressure them to keep the funds going. She said she was hopeful the same would happen again.
“VAWA is traditionally passed in Congress with bipartisan support,” Cooke said. “It’s a very effective use of funds … It’s very disappointing that this is being talked about as something to be cut.”