Domestic Violence and the ‘Safety’ in the ‘Safety Net’


A woman named Vicky* calls our hotline, frightened but resolved.  She has been married for more than a decade to Bruce, who verbally and physically abuses her.  Last night, for the first time, he hit their young son Troy, and Vicky has decided that she wants to find safety for Troy’s sake and her own.  But Bruce controls the family bank account, doling out just a few hundred dollars to Vicky each month, so she has no savings and very little credit to her own name.  Bruce pressured Vicky to quit her job as a teacher when Troy was born, and she has been out of the workforce for a long time.  Over many years, Bruce has isolated her from the friends and family who had the resources to help her.  Vicky needs help to make a plan to leave and to make a safe, financially secure new beginning for herself and her son.

As domestic violence advocates, we hear about very specific needs like Vicky’s on our hotline every day: safe shelter, transportation, food, health care, child care, and money to buy other necessities like gas or phone cards.  These are among the most urgent needs that people who are fleeing abuse need to meet in order to leave.  Often they lack the money to cover these costs precisely because abusers exercise control over the keys to financial independence.

Not surprisingly, studies show that people who have recently faced abuse are more likely to need financial help to achieve independence.  Domestic violence increases a person’s risk of homelessness, health and psychiatric problems, and joblessness.  Timing is everything: it is difficult to deal with all of these problems simultaneously while fleeing abuse.  As advocates, we know that a lack of resources forces people to accept danger at home every day.

It is because of calls like Vicky’s that we are concerned about the Governor’s recently proposed budget which could limit access to supports like Maine Care and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps).  According Maine Equal Justice Partners, the two-year budget would eliminate “more than $65 Million dollars from anti-poverty programs that provide health care, food and shelter to Mainers who face steadily rising costs as well-paying jobs that can support a family have dwindled…This proposed budget comes on top of deep cuts made in recent years that have caused more than 35,000 Mainers to lose health care; 16,000 children to lose support meeting basic needs; and 40,000 to lose food assistance (SNAP).”

In testimony before the Appropriations Committee, Francine Garland Stark of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence said, “There are many elements of [the Governor’s proposed budget] that would be devastating for people affected by domestic abuse and violence.”  Though the bill tries to provide exceptions for DV victims, it requires proof of having suffered abuse (often difficult or impossible to give), and may not provide meaningful protection in other circumstances like forced drug use or past abuse.  You can read the full text of the testimony here.

Domestic violence is not a partisan issue; it is something condemned by both parties.  But, not everyone understands what happens when safety net programs are cut.  As advocates, we hear the words “safety net” and know that it is literally providing opportunities for the people we serve to live safer lives, independent from their abusers.  Please let your legislators know how critical you think health care, food, and shelter are for people experiencing abuse.


*Vicky’s story is like those we hear on the hotline each day, but it is fictionalized.