While domestic violence can happen in any household, there is a correlation with family income. The poorer the household, the higher the rate of domestic violence. According to the National Organization for Women, women in the lowest income category experience more than six times the rate of non-fatal intimate partner violence compared to women in the highest income bracket.
As such, it made sense for Kansas Social and Rehabilitative Services to contract with the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence to provide services. For the past 13 years, the collaborative Orientation Advocacy Referral and Safety program got assistance to individuals in need much quicker than it could have otherwise. In Hays, the program was run successfully by Options Domestic and Sexual Violence Services.
"We have many success stories from this relationship," said Charlotte Linsner, Options executive director.
Unfortunately, that relationship will end soon. As of June 30 O.A.R.S. will exist no longer, thanks to new SRS regulations that do not appear to have the best interests of the victim in mind. The Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence decided not to pursue renewing its $1.7 million statewide contract, even though SRS said the federal dollars will be increased to $2 million. Instead, SRS intends to contract directly with the 29 partners that comprise the KCSDV.
If SRS requirements remain the same, we do not anticipate that happening. The regulations simply are too onerous. Victims of domestic violence and sexual assault who apply for state services or public assistance will need to undergo a psychological evaluation, take part in therapy, develop an action plan, have a job within 18 months, and be limited to a lifetime total of 18 months of services. Additionally, victims will be encouraged to establish heterosexual relationships moving forward and not have any out-of-wedlock births.
"We're encouraging the fact that two-person families are better for children," said Kathe Decker, SRS director of economic and employment support.
Were they not playing with people's lives, SRS's pursuit of a fictionalized "Leave It To Beaver" household would be comical.
But these are real people -- down-on-their-luck Kansans in need of compassion and individual attention. They certainly do not need moral judgments from a service provider or punitive measures better suited for the perpetrators.
"If you start mandating to a domestic violence victim," said Options' Linsner, "you end up taking over the role of the abuser. They don't need more manipulation, they've already had that."
"I think (SRS) is throwing up barriers," said Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, during a Senate Ways and Means Committee hearing last week to discuss whether the state could contract directly with local programs.
The senator is correct regarding barriers. We also believe the end result will be a disconnect between service providers and state assistance. And the losers will be the very victims of domestic violence or sexual assault who could use financial aid.
The Options group will continue offering compassionate care to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault throughout the 18-county region it serves.
"We have to stay client-centered," Linsner said. "We will provide the same core service to every victim, 24-hour call, immediate crisis intervention, referrals that are needed and whatever advocacy is needed."
With an annual budget of less than $500,000, Options' 13 employees efficiently served 528 clients in 2011. Caseloads vary year to year, but we hope there isn't a dramatic drop in clients because of the new SRS mandates. We can't imagine why any client would choose to be victimized a second time.
Options and the other 28 partner organizations collectively should reject rewarding the state for its callous approach to people in crisis. If KCSDV members stand together, the SRS just might be forced to refocus its efforts on actually helping citizens.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry
Son of Yvonne Lowry