Anti-violence advocates in western Massachusetts are working to help women escape from their abusers and to escape poverty.
The focus at rape crisis centers and emergency shelters for battered women has been on healing physical and emotional scars. Now more must be done to help mend economic wounds, according to Debra Robbin, Deputy Director of Jane Doe Inc., the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence.
Domestic violence is the leading cause of women’s homelessness in Massachusetts, according to Jane Doe. Sixty percent of battered women are fired or forced to quit their jobs. Women run up large debts for such things as legal bills and child care. Problems are exacerbated in rural areas where poverty rates are higher, jobs scarcer, and transportation limited.
125 people from social service organizations, law enforcement, advocacy groups and government agencies participated in a conference on Friday titled: “ Your Money and Your Life: Addressing The Economic Security of Survivors of Domestic and Sexual Violence.” The meeting at Smith College in Northampton included presentations from national experts and workshops.
Sarah Bocinski of Wider Opportunities for Women in Washington, D.C. said there are model programs around the country that could be explored in western Massachusetts. These include coordinating service providers with regional employment boards and colleges, non-traditional and entrepreneurial work development, and matching savings programs.
The New England Learning Center for Women in Transition, which serves 30 rural Franklin County towns has launched a program that offers culturally-specific economic empowerment programs. The executive director of the Greenfield-based rape crisis and domestic violence center, Cheryl Rogers, said education programs and a business start-up came about as a result of focus groups in the Latino community.
The program at the Franklin County center and the conference at Smith College are part of the Massachusetts Rural Domestic and Sexual Violence Project. It is funded by a $1 million federal grant authorized by the Violence Against Women Act.
Project consultant Becca Bradburd says the program supports services and advocacy in 84 rural communities in western and central Massachusetts.
Bradburd said part of the project’s advocacy will be to encourage an increase to the state’s minimum wage and passage of a law requiring employers to provide paid sick leave.