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Fiscal Cliff Worries Women’s Shelters Across State

Opponents of the Violence Against Women Act argue the bill unfairly provides legal support only to women, and not to the men who are accused of domestic violence.

A Bloomington women’s shelter is feeling the heat as talks of the nation’s “fiscal cliff” continue. If the Violence Against Women Act is not renewed by Congress, some say women’s shelters across the state are at risk of closing.

Signed into law by President Clinton in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, provides funding and support to groups that work with abused women, men, and children. Both the House and Senate approved different versions of the renewal of the bill in April, leaving its fate up in the air.

Indiana shelters and groups receive about $5.5 million a year from the program.

According to Toby Strout, director of Bloomington’s Middle Way House, a majority of funding to the shelter comes from VAWA.

“VAWA funding supports just about every aspect of our operation,” she says. “It’s most obvious in the legal advocacy program, but it actually supports 24 hour crisis lines, it supports domestic violence shelter operations.”

Opponents, however, argue the bill has been ineffective at preventing violence against women.

Janice Crouse is with the conservative group Concerned Women for America. She says a lot of money from VAWA goes towards legal support to women who claim domestic abuse, often falsely.

“We’re throwing money away on women who are serving their own special interests by having claims that are absolutely unsubstantiated,” she says.

Crouse says VAWA has become a boondoggle for feminist groups, and provides unnecessary protections for homosexuals and immigrants.

Strout says if the state loses VAWA funding, services for abused and neglected Hoosiers would not just be reduced, they could be cut completely.

“When we lose a funding source, it leaves a significant hole, so I think you could look forward to shelters closing,” she says.

However Crouse argues that if federal funding dries up, someone will step in to help what she calls ‘legitimate’ women’s shelters.

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