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Austin American-Statesman: Progress and new funding in the long fight to end domestic violence

Since the inaugural Domestic Violence Awareness Month in 1987, countless trailblazing, tireless advocates and organizations dedicated to ending domestic violence have made strong strides and saved lives.

This month, we celebrate both their progress and new federal funding to continue their mission. I worked closely with the National Domestic Violence Hotline program—based in Austin but serving callers nationwide—to secure a federal funding increase of over $25 million for the Hotline, doubling the previous appropriation, which should be finalized in December. This includes $1 million, which I recommended, for an innovative pilot project to intervene early and offer counseling to violent individuals who are at risk of committing violence again.

On other necessary legislation, progress is slow. Senate Republicans continue to obstruct reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Though previously enjoying bipartisan support, Republicans have unfortunately been opposing House-approved VAWA legislation because the National Rifle Association objects to closing the “boyfriend” loophole. Republican opposition to this added protection is truly indefensible.

Austin is home to leaders devoted to ending domestic violence. A movement led by the Texas Council on Family Violence and many more first won passage of VAWA 27 years ago, which included my goal of bringing the National Domestic Violence Hotline to Austin.  Over its 25-year history, the hotline has offered more than 5.5 million responses. VAWA also brought much-needed funding and hope to groups led by determined women across America. Kelly White and Julia Spann continue The SAFE Alliance, Melissa Rodriguez expands the Hays-Caldwell Center, and Darlene Lanham leads Asian Family Support Services of Austin.

For decades SAFE and their predecessor organizations have provided a safe home for any vulnerable person seeking refuge from violence. Employing 350 Austinites and drawing strength from their thousands of volunteers, they hold programs on multiple sites as well as in the schools, courts, the county and district attorney’s offices, and in hospitals. They are available via phone at 512-267-SAFE (7233) or by text at 737-888-7233.

Living in a world free of violence begins with living in a home free of violence. It takes courage to untangle oneself, and often children, from an abusive situation. This journey often begins with a phone call to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Hotline workers and volunteers provide a helping hand with dignity and respect, providing essential support, connection to resources, and personalized safety planning – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. With strength and compassion, uncertain of what challenges may be confronted at the other end of the line, these workers provide life-saving support. While the number of calls speaks to the dedication of those who literally “answer the call” to service, it is a solemn reminder of how far we have to go to prevent domestic violence.

The Hotline has seen 25 years of success. Its contact volume increased by 43% in the last five years and incidents of domestic violence have spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has heightened factors like stress, isolation, and financial strain that can compromise the safety of domestic violence survivors and increase incidents of family violence.

Reach the Hotline by calling 800.799.SAFE (7233), or texting START to 88788. Online, they provide resources on how to identify signs of an abusive relationship as well as a live chat feature: https://www.thehotline.org/.

We recognize the pain survivors have endured, the difficulty in seeking help, and the grave problem of violence that we have here in our community, which we must work together to overcome. 

Doggett, D-Austin, represents Texas’s 35th congressional district.

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