In just under a month as President of the United States, Donald Trump has made a number of swift and controversial policy changes. There has been uproar over his executive orders on pipeline construction and immigration policy—important issues we need to be discussing and acting upon. But there are also a number of potential changes on the horizon that we need to be proactively discussing as well, particularly as the Trump Administration develops the budget proposal due to be finalized in April.
While we won’t know what exactly is on the chopping block until the budget proposal is finalized, the rumblings of possible cuts are important to be aware of in advance of April so we can prepare ourselves for the potentially massive changes on the horizon.
One such potential cut is the grant program funded under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and the Office of Violence Against Women (OVW).
VAWA began in 1994, and the Obama Administration most recently reauthorized it in 2013. The act has four primary foci: domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.
With the reauthorization of the act in 2014 came the continuation of grants offered by the OVW as well as an expansion of the legislation to strengthen federal laws on the issue. This action was only one of many steps taken by the Obama Administration to make violence against women a central issue during the administration’s tenure. In 2016, top officials in the administration would refuse to visit universities where campus sexual assault was not taken seriously enough and, in 2014, a White House task force was established to combat campus sexual assault. Through the OVW, numerous grants have funded innovative prevention and response strategies through crisis intervention, transitional housing and legal assistance for violence survivors, training for law enforcement officers and more. Recipients of these grants include, but are not limited to, state, local and tribal governments, nonprofits, secondary schools and higher education institutions.
Why does this proposed budget cut matter?
Since 1993, a year before the passage of the Violence Against Women Act, sexual violence has fallen by more than half.
According to the White House archives, as of 2012, annual domestic violence rates had fallen by over 60% since the passage of VAWA. However, there is still plenty of work to be done. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) strives to collect the most accurate data available on the scope and impact of sexual violence. Per RAINN’s data, it remains that an American is sexually assaulted approximately every 98 seconds. In 2012, it was still (conservatively) estimated that domestic violence accounts for $8 billion in lost productivity and health care costs annually. Despite marked improvements since the passage of VAWA, sexual, domestic and dating violence continue to take a toll on our communities socially, emotionally, and even economically.
In light of the potential cuts to the Violence Against Women Act grant program, among other important cuts proposed, the Church ought to be asking what role to take in this situation.
Violence against women is an issue that is all too often ignored or downplayed in the church.
In an era where Christians showed overwhelming support for a Presidential candidate facing numerous allegations of sexual assault and who was recorded having lewd conversations about his treatment of women, it is certainly worth asking what the Church’s stake in this issue is. Do we truly care for the men, women and children affected by domestic, dating, and sexual violence? If we do, how are we showing it? Are we interacting with this issue only when it becomes a necessity to address it in our lives?
Romans 15:1-2 (ESV) tells us of “the example of Christ,” stating, “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” So, what does it look like for the Church to stand up for victims of sexual, domestic and dating violence? How can we “bear with the failings of the weak” when it comes to this issue? A good starting place is to simply start the conversation. Nothing moves forward if nobody knows the issue even exists.
We can’t let it stagnate there, though. 1 John 3:16-18 (ESV) tells us, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” What are some practical ways to start loving in deed and truth when it comes to survivors of violence? First, advocate for the funding of violence prevention and aftercare programs, both at the federal and the local levels. With the prospect of federal funding being eliminated, we ought to evaluate two questions:
- How can we advocate for the maintenance of the Violence Against Women grant programs?
- If or when funding is cut, how can we fill that gap at the local levels?
- How can we engage with local philanthropists, family and private foundations, or other individuals or groups in our churches and communities to seek continued funding of important violence prevention and aftercare programs?
- What ministries could we establish in our churches to better support those in our congregations and communities who have endured sexual, domestic or dating violence? How can we create ministries that advocate for the prevention of such violence in our communities?
Sometimes it seems that we rely too much on others, such as the government, to bear the burdens of the weak or poor in spirit. It simply isn’t “convenient” for the Church to address difficult issues such as sexual violence. However, Scripture doesn’t call us to live lives of convenience. Rather, we are called to weep with those who weep, show hospitality to others and associate with the lowly. It’s about time we reevaluate the ways in which we, as the Church, rise above the comforts of convenience and weep with those who weep, such as the survivors of sexual, domestic and dating violence.
“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.” – Romans 12:9-16 (ESV)