Analysis Violence

How the Sequester Hurts Low-Income Domestic Violence Survivors

Sheila Bapat

If Congress is unable to meet its December 13 deadline to address the sequester, the struggle for low-income domestic violence survivors to access safe housing will intensify.

If Congress is unable to meet its December 13 deadline to address the sequester, the struggle for low-income domestic violence survivors to access safe housing will intensify.

Like a hangover we couldn’t sleep off, the sequester dragged on this year, slashing funding across many government departments. Congress now has until this Friday to figure out a budget for 2014, as well as to address the sequester cuts put into effect by the 2011 Budget Control Act. A deal is necessary to avoid yet another government shutdown (the October shutdown denied nearly two million government workers their pay and completely starved federal agencies of funding).

The effects of the sequester have been far-reaching. In a report last month, the Center for American Progress pointed out, “Economic growth [has been] slower, which means fewer jobs. Children and families lost Head Start preschools. Citizens and immigrants wait in growing backlogs for their day in court. Residents of the western United States face an increased risk of deadly wildfires.” This is to name just a few of the devastating outcomes of economic instability.

If a deal is not reached this week, the sequester is expected to lead to even deeper cuts in 2014. Among the many agencies that would be affected as a result of the sequester are the housing and justice departments—both of which fund services for many low-income women and their children who are escaping domestic violence. Just before the sequester went into effect in March, the Department of Justice (DOJ) reported that it would be dealt the blow of a $1.6 billion funding cut, which would affect services offered by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). As a result of sequestration, the DOJ noted that approximately 35,900 fewer survivors would have assistance in obtaining protection orders, crisis intervention and counseling, sexual assault services, hospital-based advocacy, transitional housing services, and help with civil legal matters. In addition, some 310,600 fewer survivors would have direct victim assistance services through Victims of Crime Act (VOCA)-funded services, according to the National Association of VOCA State Administrators. And an analysis by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) estimated that 416,500 fewer survivors received life-saving and cost-effective services, including 70,120 fewer survivors having access to domestic violence programs and shelters.

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Another of the many ways DV survivors may feel pinched is through access to affordable housing, which many DV survivors rely on when fleeing an abuser. Earlier this year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) expended a one-time “emergency fund” of $103 million. Because of the sequester, Section 8 vouchers were cut between 5 and 9 percent.

“While the impact of the sequestration has manifested slowly, [it is clear there could be] a potential adverse impact that the sequester would have on already underfunded domestic violence programs, such as shelters for survivors,” Karlo Ng, staff attorney at the National Housing Law Project (NHLP), told Rewire.

Due to the cuts in HUD’s Section 8 voucher funding as a result of sequestration, there are concerns from the domestic violence advocacy community that there will not be enough emergency transfer vouchers available for survivors who need them.

VAWA protects people applying for or living in subsidized housing from being discriminated against because of their status as survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking. Some HUD programs give priority to DV survivors. But according to the National Housing Law Project, it is unclear how tenant protection vouchers will work under VAWA.

Fortunately, even as the sequester has destabilized housing for low-income DV survivors, several states have enacted laws to protect survivors. A report published by NHLP points out that 44 percent of states have laws that provide relocation assistance or the right to emergency shelter for survivors of domestic violence, and 42 percent permit early lease terminations for these tenants.

As Adele Stan wrote for Rewire earlier this year:

If Republicans can claim any sort of victory for having caused pain and economic disruption in the lives of hundreds of thousands of government workers and contractors, and the communities that depend on their labor and income, it’s that they managed to keep the degrading sequester cuts—enacted the last time they held the government hostage—that force a regime of automatic, across-the-board spending cuts in all federal agencies at the beginning of each fiscal year.

The same goes for many in the United States who rely on vital government services. Domestic violence is already a major cause of homelessness nationally. If the sequester is not addressed this week, 2014 could be far worse for many Americans, especially low-income DV survivors.

Commentary Violence

Major League Baseball Has More Work to Do When It Comes to Domestic Violence Charges

Claire Tighe

Major League Baseball's response to charges of domestic violence against Jose Reyes is really just a step in the right direction. The league, its fans, and the media outlets covering it have work to do before there is additional cause to celebrate.

Two weeks ago, the Colorado Rockies Major League Baseball (MLB) team made headlines for designating their shortstop, Jose Reyes, for assignment. The designation for assignment (DFA) means he was removed from their roster, most likely so the Rockies could trade him or release him to the minors.

The decision came after an announcement from MLB in May concluding that Reyes had violated its new Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, and Child Abuse policy. Reyes was put on leave in February while the league investigated charges that he had allegedly assaulted his wife in a Hawaii hotel the previous October. Though the charges were ultimately dropped, MLB still concluded that he had violated its policy—which allows discipline no matter a case’s legal status—based on the available police reports. Ultimately, Reyes was suspended for 52 games.

Many sports fans and media outlets are celebrating the Rockies’ decision to designate Reyes for assignment, framing it squarely as a moral response to his domestic violence suspension. As a result of the suspension, Reyes ultimately lost a total of $7.02 million for missing 30 percent of the season and is required to donate $100,000 to “charity focused on domestic violence.” Still, the team will owe Reyes $41 million despite the DFA—and that, spectators say, makes the Rockies’ actions worthy of praise. The Denver Post‘s Mark Kiszla, for example, wrote that the Rockies franchise owner, Dick Monfort, deserves a “standing ovation” for taking a “$40M stance against domestic violence” that was “not just financial.” According to Kiszla, “the franchise did right by battered women by showing zero tolerance for physical abuse.”

Yet instead of a purely moral response that deserves “a standing ovation,” the Reyes case is really more of a step in the right direction. If, as Bob Nightengale at USA Today suggested, MLB is setting a precedent by suspending Jose Reyes, the league and the media covering it have work to do before there is additional cause to celebrate.

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The league could have acted faster and given Reyes a longer, more consequential suspension to show its seriousness in responding to his violation of the policy. In fact, the New York Mets’ recent signing of Reyes, which the team explained as giving him a “second chance,” underscores just how much tolerance for reports of domestic violence truly exists in professional baseball as a whole.

The public excitement about the connection between Reyes’ domestic violence record and his sportsmanship is warranted, albeit overstated. As MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred put it, the league has taken “a firm national and international stance” on domestic violence. Reyes was only the second player to receive a suspension under the new policy, which was approved by the league in August 2015 as a result of the ongoing national conversation about intimate partner abuse in professional sports. His case was the first to be negotiated with the MLB Player’s Association; his was the harshest punishment a player had received at the time.

Even so, while the Rockies’ consideration of Reyes’ charges of domestic abuse in their decision should be appreciated, the DFA should be understood for what it really appears to be overall: based on the team’s response, it was a business decision, not an action on behalf of domestic violence survivors.

“Would we be sitting here talking about this if the domestic violence thing hadn’t happened in Hawaii? We wouldn’t. So it’s obviously part of the overall decision,” said Colorado general manager Jeff Bridich told the New York Times. After all, an incident causing a player to miss a third of the season is enough to make any team pause for consideration.But, as the Times pointed out, there are other reasons that the Rockies were ready to move on, including “never really wanting him in the first place,” the great performance of his replacement during the suspension, and the fact that the franchise had already sunk the costs of bringing Reyes onboard. By the terms of their contract, designating him for assignment was no more expensive than keeping him.

Furthermore, the handling of the Reyes case within the league and the franchise has been mostly professional, but there is still a lingering tone of undue apology toward Reyes—suggesting, again, that the treatment he has received may not be the unilateral condemnation of domestic violence that others have implied.

It begins with Reyes himself, who first apologized “to the Rockies organization, my teammates, all the fans, and most of all my family,” before retweeting Mike Cameron, a former MLB player who said that Reyes just had a “bad moment in life” and deserved forgiveness for committing physical violence against his wife.

Commissioner Manfred walked a thin line in a news conference in November just after the Hawaii incident, stating his interest in maintaining Reyes’ privacy despite the charges against him. “There’s a balance there,” he said. “On the one hand, I think our fans want to know that the case has been dealt with appropriately. On the other hand, whoever the player is, the fact that he’s a major league player doesn’t mean he has absolutely no right to privacy and or that everything in the context of a relationship or a marriage has to be public.”

While domestic violence can happen “behind closed doors,” that does not mean it is an issue of one’s personal privacy. As Bethany P. Withers has argued for the New York Times, there may not be public witnesses to abuse occurring between partners, but we should not ignore professional athletes who are charged with committing acts of domestic violence. Manfred’s comments, as well as Cameron’s, minimize Reyes’ Hawaii incident into “a lovers’ quarrel,” rather than a report of an abusive act of behavior that most likely exposes an ongoing pattern.

Rockies Franchise owner Dick Monfort’s comments were better, though not ideal. In April he told the Associated Press, “I’d like to know exactly what happened. It’s easy for us all to speculate on what happened. But really, until you really know, it’s hard. You’re dealing with a guy’s life, too.” Monfort, while expressing understandable concern for this player, sounds apologetic to Reyes, rather than the woman he was charged with abusing.

Sympathizing with Reyes in this matter, while he may be sorry for reportedly committing actions that had visible consequences, centers the experience of an abuser in a culture that silences, blames, shames, and erases survivors of domestic violence and perpetuates abusive behavior.

Much of the media, meanwhile, has taken action either to diminish Reyes’ alleged crimes or dismiss them completely. The Post‘s Kiszla, for example, was plain encouraging of Reyes, for whom he “hoped nothing but the best, if his wife had forgiven him.” His uninformed commentary shows utter lack of understanding of domestic violence and what Katherine Reyes might be experiencing in deciding to “not cooperate with the prosecutors” on the case. Fox News was similarly insensitive. At the very least, the media can provide a short explanation as to what domestic violence is and why victims may be reluctant to work with police and the criminal justice system in the first place. The “inaction, hostility, and bias” they might face, as the American Civil Liberties Union put it, is real. And their personal fear of consequences are legitimate.

Nightengale of USA Today had a particularly awful response, explicitly sympathizing with Reyes, saying “that one ugly night in Hawaii cost Reyes his pride and his job.” Except that domestic violence, a cycle of power and control, is hardly ever just “one ugly night.”

Furthermore, incidents of reported domestic violence need to be named as such. In the coverage of Reyes’ charges in Hawaii, the media failed to do so. Though ESPN reported Reyes had been arrested on abuse charges, it still said Reyes had “an argument with his wife [that] turned physical.” The Chicago Tribune labeled it as “an altercation.” The Tribune was also inaccurate in reporting that Reyes ‘choked’ his wife, when the it was actually strangulation. Technically, choking by definition is when the airway is blocked internally. Strangulation, however, is the act of blocking the passage of air through the external use of force. While the difference is subtle—in fact, the police report itself logged the action as “choking”—the ramifications are large. Describing the act as an expression of dominance signals to the public that acts of violence have perpetrators. It also gives detailed meaning to “domestic violence,” an all-encompassing phrase whose intricacies are not widely understood.

While it may seem petty to be picking over semantics, accurate framing is the difference between two partners having a disagreement and one partner committing threatening acts of violence against another in a cyclical power dynamic. It’s the difference between public acceptance of horrific behavior and public recognition of unhealthy, unacceptable relationship dynamics.

The focus on costs to Reyes and the Rockies should also be reframed. If we really want to talk big money, we should consider the exorbitant shared cost of domestic violence on all of our systems, both public and private. Domestic violence is “a serious, preventable public health problem.” The epidemic is estimated to cost $8.3 billion annually to the economy due to its effect on survivors’ physical and emotional health, as well as their workplace productivity. Because domestic violence is so widely underreported, this estimate is even a conservative one. It also does not encompass the cost to child survivors and the trauma inherited by future generations. Understanding the ridiculously high costs of domestic violence centers the long-lasting effects of an epidemic on survivors and our society as a whole, rather than the cost to a singular MLB player or team.

Wholly shifting the narrative is vital in Reyes’ case and in the cases of other players disciplined under MLB’s new policy. It is up to the public to connect the dots between all of the players and teams to understand the wide scale and scope of MLB’s domestic violence problem. The Mets’ quick re-signing of Reyes as a “second chance” to the player is a reminder of many teams’ true priorities.

Though the new MLB policy appears to be comprehensive and informed by experts, the league, the teams, and the media haven’t quite perfected their responses. With regard to MLB’s process and ultimate decision, critics are saying the league should act faster and make longer, more consequential suspensions in the future. If Commissioner Manfred is really going to give weight to charges of domestic violence, a quicker, more punitive response to charges like Reyes’ is a good way to start. There is also significant work to be done in the public relations and media responses to domestic violence in the League overall.

Five years ago, there was very little talk about domestic violence in professional sports, let alone in Major League Baseball. Almost ten years ago, it was a big joke. Until 2016, MLB had never suspended a player for domestic violence. It’s becoming clearer and clearer to the public that domestic violence pervades every arena, from professional sports to entertainment. There has been an explosion of coverage on the topic in relation to the National Football League, college campusesHollywood, theater, and the music industry. Domestic violence in Major League Baseball, in professional sports, and in our culture is a much larger problem than one suspension can solve. It’s up to us to see that domestic violence is not just the concern of a singular player, team, sport, or profession. We all have a domestic violence problem. Together we can solve it.

News Violence

Murder of Pregnant North Carolinian Highlights Prevalence of Reproductive Coercion, Domestic Violence

Michelle D. Anderson

“It’s all about power and control,” said Tara Romano, a domestic violence activist and executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina. “We don’t actually know what [Dixon’s] motive was, but it always comes down to control.”

Authorities in Asheville, North Carolina are investigating the murder of Candace Elaine Pickens, a 23-year-old pregnant college student who was found dead next to her 3-year-old child in a park on May 12.

Pickens’ aunt, Irene Jenny Pickens, told the Washington Post that Pickens’ partner, Nathaniel Elijah Dixon, 24, wanted Pickens to have an abortion against her will. She added that relatives believed the couple had a volatile relationship based on Pickens’ recent Facebook posts.

Dixon appeared in court last week on charges of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, and child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury to Pickens’ son, Zachaeus Latese Waters, the Citizen-Times reported.

Zachaeus, who underwent brain surgery and lost an eye after allegedly being shot by Dixon, is being treated at a local hospital.

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Police said Dixon fled to Columbus, Ohio, following the incident but was found and arrested the day after a jogger found Pickens and Zachaeus in the grass. He has waived his right to extradition back to North Carolina and remains lodged in an Ohio jail, the Citizen-Times reported.

Columbus Police Department’s spokesperson Denise Alex-Bouzounis told local media that Dixon had been holding a 21-year-old Asheville woman hostage when Ohio officers found him.

Before his arrest, Dixon portrayed innocence and sadness about Pickens’ death by posting three status updates on Facebook—including two videos featuring Pickens.

Dixon had a history of violence and misconduct and had been a suspected member of a Los Angeles-based gang.

The Citizen-Times reported Dixon served a four-year prison sentence beginning in 2009 for attempted robbery with a dangerous weapon. In November 2014, local authorities had held Dixon without bond for numerous criminal charges, including assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill. Some of the other charges, which were later dropped as part of a guilty plea made in March 2015, included trespassing, possession of a firearm by a felon, and discharging a firearm in the city.

Dixon had faced allegations of threatening to kill another woman with whom he had a child. That woman had filed domestic violence protective orders against Dixon in 2014 and 2015 for physical violence and for threatening to kill her.

A judge dismissed the first complaint because both parties did not appear for a scheduled hearing. Authorities dismissed the second request because Dixon could not be located.

Suspected domestic violence victims like Pickens have protections under North Carolina General Statute 50B-1. The state law defines domestic violence and allows authorities to provide civil action, emergency relief, and temporary orders, among other options.

Around 324,000 pregnant people in the United States experience domestic abuse annually, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. About one in four pregnant people who are sexually or physically abused by their partner report reproductive coercion, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV).

Murder is the second most common cause of injury-related death for pregnant people, trailing only car accidents, per the NCADV.

Tara Romano, a domestic violence activist and executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, said in a phone interview with Rewire that domestic violence comes in many forms, including reproductive coercion. This can involve a partner tampering with or refusing to allow use of  birth control, or forcing a person to carry a pregnancy.

“It’s all about power and control,” Romano said. “We don’t actually know what [Dixon’s] motive was, but it always comes down to control.”

Romano added that, during pregnancy, violence often heightens because abusers become jealous and want to assert that they are the central focus of the pregnant person’s life.

Romano stressed the importance of educating domestic abuse survivors about the resources available to them and reaching out to local agencies on behalf of people who may need help ending an abusive relationship.