Sexual, domestic abuse victims face referrals to other countiesIf a victim of abuse dials the number listed in the phone book for the Carlton County Sexual and Domestic Abuse Program, he or she will receive a message stating the phone number has been disconnected. That’s because as of Oct. 15, the program was discontinued due to lack of funding.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
If a victim of abuse dials the number listed in the phone book for the Carlton County Sexual and Domestic Abuse Program, he or she will receive a message stating the phone number has been disconnected. That’s because as of Oct. 15, the program was discontinued due to lack of funding. Now, abuse victims with court-issued orders for protection face fewer options – at least locally – but local officials say it’s important for them to know there are still shelter and support services they can access.
“Right now, there’s a lot of triage going on,” admitted John Phung, staff attorney for the Legal Aid Service of Minnesota.
Phung, along with a group of other individuals from the county, law enforcement, and United Way of Carlton County, have been meeting to come up with solutions for what they consider to be a critical and ongoing need.
The Carlton County Sexual and Domestic Abuse Program (also known as Rural Women’s Advocates) had been in existence since the mid-1980s, helping to provide direct services to victims of domestic abuse with 24-hour emergency assistance; temporary safe shelter for the victim and children; assistance in filing an Order of Protection; legal advocacy (including accompanying victim to court hearings); community-based support groups for victims; violence prevention programs for elementary/secondary schools; audio visual resources; and opportunities for volunteers.
The program was funded through the state of Minnesota Office of Justice Programs, the Carlton County United Way and a grant from Carlton County. Unfortunately, the primary funder, the Office of Justice Programs, did not renew funding for the local program this year due to a reconfiguration of how those funds are distributed.
“The state has traditionally allocated money for domestic abuse advocacy,” explained Phung, “distributing a portion to each of the counties to use as needed. Now, they have decided to make it a competitive situation, and the local programs were not among those to receive funding.”
Under the state’s new funding formula, the local program is unable to apply for funding again until 2017, leaving it up to the county to come up with alternatives of its own in the meantime.
Before deciding to close its doors, the board of directors of the Rural Women’s Advocates program extensively researched other grant opportunities and inquired into requesting additional funding from the county. However, after speaking with county board members, it became clear that additional funding was unlikely given the current fiscal needs of the county and the extra financial stress generated from the June flooding. After much discussion and consultation with other agencies, the board of directors decided that closing the program was the only solution.
“It was sad that it had to be shut down with such short notice,” said Dorine Houck, executive director of the Carlton County United Way, which helped fund the program.
Now, Houck is helping to facilitate a plan to get people to the table and put a plan in place to address the needs of local abuse victims so they know where they can go for support and assistance and help refer them to other agencies so their needs continue to be met.
“It’s kind of a moving target, because there are so many people involved and services provided,” said Houck, stating the program served some 512 people prior to Jan. 1, 2012. “It’s something that won’t be resolved tomorrow, but we have to decide what we can put in place right now.”
Among the intermediary measures in the works is a plan to provide emergency housing for victims of abuse by sending them either to a local motel or “safe house,” but just how that is going to be paid for is still unclear.
“We know it’s a vital service that needs to be restored,” said Houck. “We’re not sure just how that’s going to be done and what the pieces are going to look like.”
Carlton County did not have an emergency shelter for abuse victims even before the Rural Women’s Advocates program closed its doors, and Phung said transportation has been a problem because women have not always been able to find a way to get themselves and their children to the region’s only shelter in Duluth when they need to.
Phung is exploring options such as tapping agencies like Volunteer Services f Carlton County to look at options for volunteer drivers to help transport victims in need of assistance who don’t have means of getting there on their own. He added he is also trying to connect with other community organizations as well.
Currently, local abuse victims are being referred to the Safe Haven Shelter and Resource Center for Battered Women in Duluth. The shelter provides assistance 24/7, and the resource center is open Monday through Friday to help abuse victims navigate the criminal justice system, connect with financial resources and assist with safety planning.
Phung said the only service Safe Haven is not able to provide to Carlton County residents is court escorts because they don’t have the staffing to appear in court. He said those services are currently being provided through Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota, a non-profit law firm supported through private donations and agencies.
Another option for victims of sexual or domestic abuse is the WINDOW program in Hinckley, which provides advocacy and support services for crime victims, including those impacted by sexual and domestic abuse.
Phung explained that all women’s shelters in the state of Minnesota work together, and residency in a particular county where a shelter or agency is located is not required.
Both Houck and Phung agree the problem of sexual and domestic abuse in Carlton County is a critical issue that will need to be addressed on a continuing basis, though Phung said he was heartened to see the numbers of Orders for Protection and/or Restraining Order filings in the county aren’t quite as high as they were in recent years. According to the records of the state court administrator, the OFPs for domestic abuse in the county numbered 124 in 2005 and have dropped progressively since that time. As of Oct. 4 this year, that number was only 61 for 2012.
On the other hand, the harassment/restraining orders in the county stood at 140 in 2005, topped out at 163 in 2010 and hit 150 for this year as of Oct. 4.
Phung said these figures don’t necessarily reflect the actual numbers served by the Rural Women’s Advocates program, however, since not all went through their office.
In light of the closing of the local program, all local law enforcement agencies, probation, court administration and social services will be equipped with referral information for victims of sexual and domestic abuse, and anyone in the midst of crisis is advised to call 911 for immediate assistance.
In the meantime, the group working to come up with a more localized solution remains committed to the challenge.
“This is a need that has been shut down,” summed up Houck, “and we want to make sure that the community has the resources available that it needs.”
CONTACT INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF SEXUAL AND DOMESTIC ABUSE:
- Safe Haven Shelter for Battered Women of Duluth, 218-728-6481/ 877-880-3094 (crisis line) or 218-623-1000 (resource center)
- WINDOW Victims’ Services of Pine and Kanabec Counties, 320-384-7113/800-644-0003 (crisis line) or 320-384-7996 (resource center)
- Minnesota Domestic Violence Crisis Line, 866-223-1111
- National Domestic Violence Hotline, 800-799-SAFE (7233)
- United Way 24-Hour Referral Line, 2-1-1