4.13.18 - Testimony before the DC Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety Budget Oversight Hearing on: Office of Victims Services & Justice Grants

Testimony before the DC Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety Budget Oversight Hearing on: Office of Victims Services & Justice Grants

Marta Beresin, Policy & Legal Director, Break the Cycle - April 13, 2018

My name is Marta Beresin and I am the Director of Legal Services & Public Policy for Break the Cycle. Break the Cycle is a national nonprofit whose mission is to inspire and support youth to build healthy relationships and create a culture without abuse. We provide free, comprehensive legal services to survivors of dating abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking between the ages of 12 and 24 throughout all eight wards of the District of Columbia. We connect with youth at the Domestic Violence Intake Center, at DCPS schools—most recently forming partnerships with Roosevelt Senior High School and Anacostia High School—and at youth-serving community-based organizations. Through our intervention services we attempt not only to ensure our clients’ safety and welfare, but also to help them discover their powerful voices as peer educators and policy advocates. Break the Cycle also organizes youth on a national level around issues of healthy relationships and understanding abuse and provides training to professionals, including teachers and doctors, who serve young people. We are grantees of the Office of Victims Services & Justice Grants (“OVSJG”) as well as of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women.

I am pleased to be able to submit testimony regarding the Fiscal Year 2019 budget for OVSJG.

  • Teen dating violence is an urgent, silent epidemic. Nationally: One in three high school students has been physically or sexually abused by a dating partner. Nearly 8% of youth ages 10-13 and over 17% of 14-17 year olds have experienced sexual victimization of some kind in the past year.
  • Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence in the U.S.

The consequences of teen dating violence are grave. Dating violence leads to higher incidences of drug abuse, tobacco use, truancy, mental health diagnoses, and suicide. Because the severity is often greater in cases where the pattern of abuse started in adolescence, if we can intervene early we often can interrupt a lifetime of unhealthy or abusive relationships.

Break the Cycle fully supports Judiciary Committee Chairman Allen’s effort to decouple DC’s estate tax threshold from the federal threshold. Neither DC residents nor DC Councilmembers ever intended for that threshold to reach $11.2 million, which would cost DC $6.5 million and only benefit a very small number of DC’s wealthiest residents. We must push back against Congressional actions that will increase DC’s already widening gap between rich and poor. We support Chairman Allen’s proposal to maintain the threshold at $5.6 million and invest the $6.5 million savings into priorities that will assist low-income DC residents, including but not limited to $2.5 million for domestic violence survivors for emergency and transitional housing.

Additional funding beyond this $2.5 million will be required, however, to meet the full, demonstrated, and urgent needs of domestic violence survivors in DC. As members of both the DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence (“DCCADV”) and the Fair Budget Coalition, Break the Cycle supports the following OVSJG budget recommendations:

  • $5.5 million for domestic violence specific shelter and housing to be used as follows:
    • $1.1 million for domestic violence specific emergency housing.
    • $3.5 million for domestic violence-specific transitional housing.
    • $825,000 for a Flexible Funding Program to enable survivors to move into housing or to maintain their housing.
  • $3 million to increase funding for culturally-specific services to domestic violence survivors.

Statistics from 2017 indicate that 43% of unmet requests to DC domestic violence service providers was for housing. The 2017 DC Women’s Needs Assessment Report found that nearly one-third of unaccompanied homeless women in DC indicated that violence was the cause of their current homelessness or housing instability. Even at Break the Cycle, where our clients are ages 12-24, housing assistance is a frequently arising need. In one recent Break the Cycle case, our client was in need of housing after leaving her abusive partner. Because the abuser knew where our client’s sister and mother each lived, the client did not feel safe residing with them. We worked with the client and Crime Victims Compensation to place her and her child in a hotel for 25 days. During this 25 day period, the client went to the Virginia Williams Family Resource Center and applied for a Rapid Rehousing subsidy, which she received. However, it has taken so long for her to find housing with this voucher that she was forced to move in with her mother. When the client has felt unsafe at her mother’s home due to the abuser's behavior, she has moved with her daughter to another family member's home. As for so many survivors in DC, housing instability and the lack of affordable options—even with the client’s income from work – has been a major barrier to stabilizing her life after getting protection.

In other cases, just a little creative financial assistance can stabilize a survivor’s housing situation and her life. Flexible Funding Programs have been shown to be a promising, evidence-based practice. In one study here in DC, 55 recipients of DASH’s Flexible Funding Program were interviewed 1, 3, and 6 months after assistance. The study found that after six months, 94% remained housed, 91% had no further incidents of domestic violence, and 100% felt their lives were better off. The Fund is designed to assist survivors with financial needs that cannot be met by any other organizations and that will help them retain long-term housing. Requests are processed quickly to address urgent needs such as rental assistance, car repairs, childcare, relocation, utility bills, and credit/debt repair. BTC’s work with clients makes clear that this fund needs expansion. DC’s Crime Victims Compensation Program serves limited purposes and DASH’s fund is very small. CVC funds only compensate survivors for out-of-pocket crime-related expenses. For example, if a client needs reimbursement for car rental while a vehicle is being held as evidence this would qualify. However, if a client needed car repairs in order to get to her job, but the repairs were unrelated to the abuser’s actions, this expense would not be covered by CVC funds. Such an expense could, however, be covered by a Flexible Funding Program for survivors because the need would be related to job retention and housing stabilization after victimization.

At BTC, one type of expense with which many of our young clients need help is transportation assistance. The cost of metro transportation from the far reaches of DC can be prohibitive. This means that lack of transportation alone can be a barrier to justice. One young client we represented had meetings at CVC, SAFE, our office, the TANF office, and various housing programs. She was also using public transit to get back and forth to work in downtown DC. Although she received a metro card from the CVC office, those funds ran out quickly. She used the last of her funds to get back to CVC to obtain another metro card, only to be told that she was too early to receive another one and would need to return the following week. The client was stranded in the metro station with no way to get home. BTC sent a law clerk to meet the client at the station with a metro card. A Flexible Funding Program administered by DCCADV would offer deeper subsidies and more flexible program rules that take into consideration the individual client’s needs, such as this client’s significant transportation assistance needs. Finally, I want to address the importance of increasing funding for culturally-specific services for domestic violence survivors. Survivors hail from many different and diverse communities in DC, including various immigrant communities as well as the LGBTQ community. Many survivors from specific communities encounter language and cultural barriers when seeking services from mainstream domestic violence providers. Culturally-specific providers can better meet the needs of these survivors and also meet the important need for training mainstream programs to better serve clients from particular populations. Break the Cycle, for example, partners with SMYAL, an LGBTQ youth- serving organization in DC. Over just the past two years, SMYAL has provided two cross-trainings and a one-on-one training for Break the Cycle’s legal team to assist us in providing better services to young LGBTQ clients. Additional funding for culturally-specific providers will ensure that no DC survivor is left behind due to cultural or linguistic barriers. It will also help ensure than mainstream providers receive training necessary to better meet the needs of special populations.

Thank you Chairman Allen and Director Garcia for your leadership and your commitment to supporting all victims and survivors of intimate partner violence in the District of Columbia. We look forward with excitement to the work ahead in Fiscal Year 2019.