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Photograph by Kat Lynch
Signs of The Times: Protesters rally to restore domestic violence services.


State abandons domestic violence victims, and Santa Cruz service providers protest with a rally.

By Kat Lynch

CHEERS, car honks and whoops of support fill the air a block past the clock tower in every direction, interrupting the cadence of chanting: "Stop governor cuts to domestic services!" Shoes--800 pairs of them--surround the base of the tower in orderly fashion, a testament to the number of women and children in the county who will go without assistance from domestic violence organizations.

As part of Gov. Schwarzenegger's line-item veto to the state budget on July 28, the $16.3 million lifeline to the 94 domestic violence shelters and centers throughout California vanished. "These shoes represent women and children that will not get the services we provide," said Laura Segura of Women's Crisis Support~Defensa de Mujeres at the Aug. 6 rally.

Even in the midst of statewide budget cuts, the announcement came as a shock to Segura and Dee O'Brien, executive director of Walnut Avenue Women's Center. "The funds to domestic violence services in the state's Department of Public Health were ... completely eliminated," says O'Brien. "That means the county lost $635,000."

In 2007 in Santa Cruz County there were 823 calls to law enforcement asking for protection during domestic violence incidents; 144 of these calls involved a weapon. However, most cases go unreported--a fact borne out by the disparity between reported calls and Walnut Avenue's case load of approximately 2,300 women every year who are victims of domestic violence.

Steven Moore, head of the Domestic Violence Unit for the District Attorney's office, explains why. "There is a lot on the line when someone calls domestic violence in: a relationship, kids and an economic situation," says Moore. "It's not usually until the third or fourth event that it is reported. People usually think that it was just one incident or that it will stop."

Already six rural centers have been forced to close in California. At stake now are shelters and other services. "How do you tell someone, 'Sorry, not today. Can you come back in three weeks for that restraining order?'" says O'Brien.

Both organizations receive some federal funding and local donations and grants, but the state cut represents 30 percent of their collective budget and 50 percent of Walnut Avenue's domestic violence budget. Supporters find the cuts short-sighted. "During economic hard times, domestic violence rises. When people don't have jobs, they get more frustrated," says Phillis Greenly, a member of the Women's Commission education team. "Instead of cutting funds we ought to increase them! This is taking money away from those who need it most."

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