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Victims of Domestic Violence Are Especially Hurt By the Shutdown

It's officially the second week of the government shutdown, as well as the second week of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The shutdown has cut federal funding for domestic violence shelters across the country. Young women who are particularly vulnerable to domestic violence and sexual assault will soon be forced to go without counseling and other vital services. While some shelters will have access to funds from other pools of money like state and private funding, shelters in rural and low-income areas that heavily rely on federal funding face severe consequences.

Young women, low-income women, and those in communities of color are disproportionately victims of domestic violence and rape. Young women ages 20 to 24 are at greatest risk of non-fatal domestic violence. Coupled with the sluggish economy, domestic violence programs are facing a double whammy. Eight out of 10 domestic violence shelters nationwide have reported an increase in women seeking help. As demand has increased, funding has decreased. Forty-three percent of domestic violence programs have stated that lower funding would result in cutting vital services.

I can't imagine what it would be like to go without care after facing a trauma, like-having limited or no access to life-saving services like HIV and STI testing and counseling after sexual assault. I've always been lucky enough to have comprehensive health insurance, including when someone who I thought was a close friend sexually assaulted me in college. During my sophomore year, I became part of the one in four college women who are victims of sexual assault before graduation. Counseling is what got me through the next few years of school. Having someone to talk through what happened to me, to help me make sense of it all. I can't imagine what it would have been like to go through college without that support system. It's what made me a survivor instead of a victim.

Thousands of women go without help because of limited access to such services. And thanks to the government shutdown, more will be at risk. At least 2,000 shelters across the country rely on federal funds from the Family Violence Prevention Services Act, the Violence Against Women Act, and the Victims of Crime Act to run their programs. Earlier this month, those shelters were cut off. Native American communities who rely heavily on federal funding are especially at risk.

Native American women living on reservations face higher rates of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Almost 40% of Native America women will face domestic violence in their lifetime, compared to 17% of women nationwide.

Even before the shutdown, programs that provide services to victims of domestic violence were struggling financially. From fiscal year 2011 to 2012, 90% of states saw a decrease in private funding and nearly 80% of states reported their programs fell victim to cuts from local, county, and city sources. Meanwhile, some domestic violence program have considered administering layoffs to cope with the financial constraints, and service providers took a hit in funding prior to sequestration. A 2012 survey by the Mary Kay Foundation found that nearly 80% saw a cut in government organizations and 64% saw a dip in individual donors.

President Barack Obama couldn't have said it better in a press release on Sept. 30. He recognized Domestic Violence Awareness Month and underscored its importance to young people: "Ending violence in the home is a national imperative that requires vigilance and dedication from every sector of our society." He wrote, "We must continue to stand alongside advocates, victim service providers, law enforcement, and our criminal justice system as they hold offenders accountable and provide care and support to survivors. But our efforts must extend beyond the criminal justice system to include housing and economic advocacy for survivors. We must work with young people to stop violence before it starts."

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