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Commentary By Peg Hacskaylo: Preserving Victim Services

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If you had been a passenger on the Titanic, would you have rather had a seat on a lifeboat or would a life preserver have been sufficient for you, as the ship was sinking? In other words, is helping someone buy time as good as ensuring their long-term survival? Soon in the District of Columbia, women and children made homeless by violence will be facing this terrible dilemma.

Ten years ago, when victims were forced out of their homes due to abuse, they mostly had to rely on emergency housing in motels. That was paid for by the D.C. Office of Crime Victims Compensation, under the D.C. Superior Court. Back when the District had few safe housing options for survivors, this arrangement was deemed sufficient to ensure their safety while working to secure other protections.

However, the D.C. Office of Victim Services, created in 2004, has invested in the development of more than 120 units of safe housing, as well as a network of other programs that serve victims cost-effectively and are sensitive to their unique needs.

A national survey conducted in 2010 found that more than 400 victims of abuse were served by this network on one day last fall, 257 of them in safe housing programs alone. Programs also reported an increase in demand for services coupled with a decrease in funding overall. Soon that entire system of services will be at risk.

Without aggressive action now, by October 2012 funding for victim services will decrease by 60-90 percent from current levels. Victims will have no other option but to rely on the old stop-gap measures offered through the court to find safety from abuse –- in other words, life preservers rather than lifeboats.

Following the Titanic disaster, the inquiry into the sinking stated that such limited safety measures weren't acceptable. The report recommended that ships have enough lifeboat seats for everyone because although every passenger on the ship had a life vest, two-thirds of those on board still died.

As we approach the centennial of that horrific event, the District is facing its own disaster. The city needs to ensure funding to support victim services. We can no longer afford the age-old mistake of thinking that preserving life for the short-term is good enough, and instead invest in saving lives for good.


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