Mission evolves for a local shelter
This time, it was the Council Against Domestic Abuse that got battered - and all of the other programs across the state that work on behalf of abused women.
"Basically, in the state's budget-balancing effort last year, they zeroed-out funding for victims' services - no, worse than that, they took the whole line item right out of the budget. It doesn't exist any more," said Sally Dobson, head of CADA, which serves abuse victims with an office in Storm Lake and a shelter in Cherokee County.
Most Iowans probably don't realize what the legislature did, and it's likely that even some lawmakers don't know, she said.
"It's a big budget document, and it might be hard to notice that something's been taken out. So the first thing we need to do is let them know what they have done. The second thing is to ask them if that really what they wanted to do," Dobson said. "Iowa has a pretty good system of physical and sexual assault centers and shelters built up, and we risk setting our state back a long way if we start to lose them. That means a lot less accessibility to services for victims."
While the victims rights advocates in Iowa are lobbying hard to get the line item returned to the state budget, preliminary indications are not favorable at lawmakers continue to deal with budget woes, Dobson said. "It's not sounding too good."
"That leaves us doing more with less money. We have had to reduce from seven employees to five in order to keep going, and that leaves us with pretty much a one-person operation at our office in Storm Lake," she said.
Quietly, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller may be the saving grace of services for Iowa victims of abuse. When the legislature cut out all funding suddenly last year, Miller offered a portion of his budget to programs like CADA through a victims compensation account.
"Of course, it is a lower funding rate than what we have had before, but it kept us afloat, and we are very grateful to him for doing that," Dobson said.
Dobson is finding some of the legislators she talks to surprised at the funding swerves for the abuse systems. "Hopefully that means they will be willing to reconsider when they go to Des Moines for 2003, but that remains to be seen," she said.
CADA is asking the local public to contact their area lawmakers and urge them to reconsider funding for victims services. "We are trying to educate the general public to what has happened, and if they think victims of abuse deserve services, we hope they will use whatever contacts they can to get the word out," Dobson said.
Meanwhile, the level of violence against women seems to be unabated.
"There is a lot particularly in the Storm Lake area lately. We are doing a lot of work with immigrant women as well as the other residents. It can be a whole lot tougher with some of the women presenting a language barrier. We can go through our normal routes to get the immigrant woman out of a dangerous situation, but if she is not able to work or access some services because of a lack of documentation, helping her can be very time-consuming," Dobson said.
CADA's local mission has evolved since its founding in 1990. While it still operates its 24-hour hotline and emergency shelterhouse, it is less about "hiding" a woman and more about helping her.
"People are usually sheltered for a shorter time, because the legal remedies have become better. At one time, the idea was for a woman to go into hiding to be safe from the person abusing her; now the laws will take the perpetrator out of the home instead of the woman and the children," Dobson said. "We may often work with a woman on getting a restraining order, determining her legal rights, employment, housing, counseling, group support, help for children who may be witnesses to the violence, lots of follow-up, as well as prevention things like education in the schools and parenting classes - we have many services to offer, although people still may think of us as only a safe house."
Despite a popular misconception, the holidays is the slowest time of the year for victim's abuse services.
"Contrary to what everyone thinks, we don't see a lot of women at this time of the year. I think personally that a lot of women try to hold it together for the holidays for the sake of their children. It isn't that the abuse isn't happening at Christmas - it is."
Dobson adds that late spring, summer and early fall are the heaviest times for victims to come forward for help. There are usually a few women and their families at any given time living in the CADA house, and others will pass through only briefly as their legal situations are worked out. Volunteers staff the house around the clock.
Law enforcement officers in the Buena Vista County region work closely with CADA, and have been good to help physically or sexually abused women they encounter to reach the services the agency provides, as well as to take a zero-tolerance stand against abusers.
"Thankfully, the laws have been beefed up, and recently extended to apply to boyfriends abusing women as well as husbands. Law enforcement is very important in the process. We can work without the trauma of having to take a woman away from her job and pull her kids out of schools, and we can make the perpetrator bear more of the burden for the results of what they have done," Dobson said.
CADA's role becomes more involved as time goes on. Rather than just sheltering, it's mission now is to ask, "What do you need to be successful in your future safe life," Dobson said. "Victims of sexual abuse can be especially challenging. It's a very complex crime, and it can be equally complex to determine what the woman needs to heal."
The issue of abuse is much more "out-of-the-closet" than in the past, but CADA officials still feel the public far underestimates the number of women being abused in their communities.
"Abuse services are more visible and accepted today than when we started, but within each person's life, it is no more easy to come forward and admit you are being battered. That's not an acceptable label to have put on you," Dobson said. "Women are programmed in our society to believe that they are responsible for the relationship. That's what women are 'supposed' to do - be the nurturer. Unfortunately, they discover that one person alone cannot make the relationship work. When they are abused, they find it hard to talk about it, and may even blame themselves for the relationship's failure. When they do start to talk, they find they are in very good company, and can find a lot of support from the people who know what this situation is. Still, though, they can bear blame from their family, friends, church or employer, and that's sad."
One of the most important elements is consistency as a community works against abuse, Dobson feels. "Every police officer, every judge, every victim's advocate brings a little of their own baggage into play, but the situations have to be applied consistency. We like to be able to tell a victim what they can expect, but that's not possible if the laws are enforced differently in different places."
CADA offers speakers for local groups and meetings, and appreciated the chance to share its message. "These issues are difficult to talk about and think about, but we greatly appreciate the willingness of the public here to be aware of the issue. It's an everybody kind of effort," Dobson said.
Right now, what the community can do is tell legislators how they feel, she stressed.
"In Iowa, we spend a fortune on perpetrators of abuse - a lot of taxpayer money for prisons to house them, rehabilitation programs for them, law enforcement and courts to deal with them. If you happen to think that we should invest a little bit of money in helping the victims as well, now would be the time to say so."
Editor's note: With funds slashed, CADA can always use volunteers and donations. Funds can be sent to Council Against Domestic Abuse/Sexual Abuse, Box 963, Cherokee, 51012.
For more information on CADA programs, call 712-225-5003. The CADA hotline can be reached 24 hours a day for emergency help, at 1-800-225-7233.