Author Archives: Sarah Gonzalez Bocinski

Building Capacity: The Economic Security for Survivors (ESS) Project in Action

This fall was full of product releases, travel and trainings, as well as some exciting news. On September 13th the ESS Project received a three-year technical assistance grant from the US Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women to continue to provide training and technical assistance to OVW grantees serving survivors of intimate partner violence, sexual assault and stalking around the issues of safety, economic security and sustainability of employment. We are thrilled by OVW’s commitment to addressing survivor economic security and are eager to build on the work we have already done across the country.

ESS recently introduced its two new tools for advocates, the Victim Advocate’s Guide to Safety and Economic Security for Victims of Violence Against Women and the Economic and Employment Advocacy E-Course. The Victim Advocate’s Guide offers practical recommendations that all advocates can use to reduce economic barriers to safety and justice, restore independence and foster collaboration across systems. Informed by WOW’s expertise in strengthening workforce development for women, the new e-course provides community-based advocates and case managers with a blueprint to help survivors rebuild their lives through career and economic counseling designed to empower survivors with options. The course also contains a number of handouts and worksheets that can easily be used in client services. Both these tools served as the foundation for trainings held with key stakeholders throughout the fall.

In September, Sarah and Malore met with the grantees of the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services and the Longmont Ending (Domestic) Violence Initiative in Colorado to explore the intersections of intimate partner and sexual violence and economic security to provide a new framework to better respond to survivors. Using this economic lens, they explored the various tools that the criminal justice system and community service providers already have to address the economic insecurity many survivors face as a result of economic abuse and the cost of violence, such as securing economic relief through protection orders or providing employment support services.

On September 19th, Sarah joined other advocates and leaders at the White House where President Obama and Vice President Biden announced their newest efforts to combat sexual assault on campus. The “It’s On Us” campaign seeks to prevent sexual violence on campuses by engaging bystanders and making the case that every member of the community has a role to play in creating safer campuses where intellectual growth is accessible to every student.

At the end of September Malore and project consultant Robin Thompson participated in the Nebraska State Patrol’s annual conference where they led two workshops detailing how law enforcement can work independently and in collaboration with other justice and community sectors to address the economic dynamics of abuse and pursue economic justice. They shared best practices to integrating economic considerations into the existing activities of dispatchers, first responders and investigators with a goal of increasing survivor safety and offender accountability.


Building on previous work in Oregon, Sarah and Malore returned to Portland in October to meet with direct service program directors at the Crime Victim Services Division’s Directors’ Day meeting. They were joined by the Jackson County Sexual Assault Response Team and the Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Taskforce who shared ways their work has changed to address economic security since the team’s last visit in early 2013. The Oregon Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence also shared the work of its member organizations towards promoting economic independence. Both the Victim Advocates Guide and the new curriculum were then introduced and shared as free tools to support advocates and case managers’ capacity to support the criminal justice systems and enhance economic support services. The meeting also served as a launching point for ongoing technical assistance to incorporate economic security into the criminal justice system response and community support services across the state over the next three years.

Interested in learning more about ESS project trainings and resources? Contact Sarah Gonzalez Bocinski, Director, Economic Security for Survivors Project at



Addressing Sexual Assault on Campus is a Matter of Gender Equity

Education is an important tool to achieving economic security. Eighty percent of college graduates with a four-year degree are economically secure. Yet this important opportunity is often accompanied by a troubling reality for women – 28.5% of college women reported an attempted or completed sexual assault before or since entering college.

The prevalence of sexual violence on campuses creates a hostile environment for female students, which undermines their ability to take advantage of the same educational opportunities as male students. The impacts of sexual assault can have life-long repercussions on the lives of survivors. This is exacerbated when colleges and universities fail to prevent and appropriately handle cases of sexual assault.

As a result of sexual assault, survivors are often faced with high healthcare costs including care for physical trauma, reproductive health care (if accessible at all) and counseling. Emotional trauma, fear of running into the person who raped them, and/or threats from their rapist result in diminished academic performance. Ultimately survivors may drop out of school, leaving them with debt and poor employment prospects. One study found that the lifetime cost of rape is $145,000 due to health costs, legal fees and lost wages. More information on the economic impacts of sexual violence facing college-aged women can be found in a 2013 brief released by the Economic Security for Survivors Project.

Addressing the prevalence of sexual assault among college aged women is a matter of gender equity. Women who are assaulted face life-long barriers to recovery and economic security. 

Last Friday, WOW joined dozens of advocates and leaders in the movement to combat violence against women in the East Wing of the White House where President Obama and Vice President Biden announced a new campaign to address sexual assault on campus as part of continued efforts in response to recent findings from the “Not Alone” report. The new campaign, “It’s On Us”, seeks to prevent sexual violence on campuses by engaging bystanders and making the case that every member of the community has a role to play in creating safer campuses where intellectual growth is accessible to every student. “It’s On Us” asks that everyone be a part of the solution by pledging to (1) recognize that non-consensual sex is sexual assault, (2)  identify situations in which sexual assault may occur, (3) intervene in situations where consent has not or cannot be given, and (4) create an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported.

We are glad to see that the administration is committed to ensuring the safety and equality of opportunity for women. We hope you join us in signing the pledge and becoming part of the solution. #ItsOnUs


The Economics of Abuse: Lessons from #WhyIStayed

The new video of former Ravens football player Ray Rice brutally assaulting his then fiancée Janay Palmer has spurred a public debate around intimate partner violence. There was shock and disgust at Ray’s sickening actions. There was outrage at the National Football League for their abysmal response. And, of course, there was victim blaming. As an advocate, one of the first questions I hear when I describe my work is: “Why doesn’t she leave?”And it didn’t take long for some to raise questions of why she stayed.

It is important to understand the dynamics of intimate partner violence. Intimate partner violence is insidious. It is not about rage or hatred; it is about power and control over a person. Abusers do everything within their power to dominate the lives of their victims. They isolate them. Deprive them of the resources they would need to be independent. They use intimidation and threats, not only against the victim, but family members, pets and their livelihood – all with the goal of leaving them few options but to stay.

This lack of understanding of the reality victims face has generated a social media response under the hashtag #WhyIStayed in which survivors of violence share the myriad reasons they stayed in abusive relationships. Economic factors played into the stories of many victims. Abusers deliberately control financial resources that are necessary for victims to escape. Abusers hide car keys, slash tires or destroy cell phones so survivors cannot reach out for help. They financially cripple victims by maxing out credit cards and saddling them with debt. They disrupt their ability to work by making them late, or constantly calling and showing up at their workplace, ultimately resulting in job loss. Abusers can also prevent victims from attending or completing school which reduces their future employment prospects. Victims may rely on an abuser for health insurance to cover needed medications for illnesses or disease. Victims often have to choose between being unable to provide food and shelter for their children and their own personal safety. Finances strongly influence the decisions victims make.

WOW’s research underscores the impact economic insecurity has on the ability of victims to be independent. A single parent in America needs on average $2,624 per month to cover the average cost of their basic needs – housing, utilities, food, transportation, childcare and health insurance. Note that this doesn’t take into account taxes, necessary personal and household items such as hygiene or cleaning products, or debt. If a person earning minimum wage could only cover housing costs and some food and without the ability to pay for transportation or childcare, this individual would likely lose his or her job. This person wouldn’t be able to make it on their own.


But what about public assistance programs – can’t they help? In short, no. They often fail to make up the difference. These programs are underfunded and have waiting lists or have eligibility requirements that can prevent victims from accessing them – particularly those who are still married to their abuser. In those cases, spousal income is often taken into consideration when survivors apply for benefits thus making them ineligible for support. Support programs such as shelters and transitional housing programs, legal aid, childcare and transportation assistance are in high demand and have limited resources. A 2010 survey found that nearly 10,000 requests for assistance went unmet. Without some level of economic security to provide for their basic needs options are limited.

So aside from the practical complications and physical dangers of leaving, consider the math. How easy would it be for you to drop everything and leave your partner? Could you afford it? Would you be homeless, without a car or childcare? What other barriers would you face? If we are to help victims escape and recover from the physical, emotional and economic costs of abuse we need to break down the power and control abusers exercise over victims and empower victims with resources and opportunities to achieve independence. This requires a comprehensive systemic approach in which the government, businesses, community groups and citizens work in concert to respond to devastating epidemic that is intimate partner violence. We all have a role to play.


On the Hill: Budget Conference Committee and the Reauthorization of the Older Americans Act

With the federal government once again open for business and the debt ceiling temporarily suspended, Congress returned somewhat to regular order with the House in session through Thursday and the Senate in recess for the week. Both chambers will be in session next week, when the newly formed Budget conference committee will meet Wednesday for its opening session. Before grappling over how to reconcile the starkly divergent fiscal blueprints passed by each chamber, conference members must first determine how the committee will operate. It’s not yet clear if the conference will meet regularly up to its Dec. 13 deadline or if committee leaders will negotiate behind closed doors and then present any agreement to the entire 29-member conference for adoption. Any agreement from the conference committee could move on a fast track, but it would require sign off from a majority of both the seven House conferees and of the 22 Senate negotiators to advance. Once adopted by the committee, the conference report would be protected against amendments and Senate filibusters. Republican-backed entitlement cuts and Democrat-backed tax hikes are sure to be on the table. But both parties have demurred on whether the final deal will contain any instructions for writing filibuster-proof reconciliation bills for carrying out a tax or entitlement overhaul. Both sides have already ruled out any further increase in the debt ceiling.  Both sides also have ruled out a “grand bargain” encompassing the range of spending issues that have separated the parties for the past few years.  This effort isn’t even be called a “mini bargain,” but rather is being characterized as a “micro bargain.”

Also on tap for next week will be the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee’s consideration of a reauthorization of the Older Americans Act. The measure, S.1562, introduced by independent Bernard Sanders of Vermont, would renew programs such as Meals on Wheels, as well as elder abuse protections and initiatives that help seniors stay in their homes. The last reauthorization expired Sept. 30, 2011, although programs have received funding through the annual appropriations process. Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), the top Republican on the Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, is withholding his support for the bill over concerns about the way funds for senior programs are distributed to states, saying the law’s funding formula should be fixed to allow states more flexibility. Burr in the past has noted that his state’s senior population was growing faster than in some other areas. The measure maintains language in current law that authorizes “such sums as may be necessary” for the programs. There is no House companion measure of the bill as of yet.


Why Domestic Violence is a Community Issue

While details from the tragic events that took the lives of four individuals in the Brookfield, Wisconsin salon shooting still emerge, one can’t help but wonder what could have been done differently to prevent this loss of life. Recognizing that this story is still unfolding, it is all too familiar to those who work with or know someone who is a survivor of violence – jealous accusations of infidelity, promised threats of violence against the survivor and children, destroyed property and intimidation at the workplace.

Radcliffe Haughton had a history of domestic violence and numerous interactions with law enforcement. In 2011, Haughton was charged with disorderly contact after a 90 minute stand-off with police who were responding to a 911 call from his estranged wife, Zina, who thought she saw him with a gun outside her home. The charges against Haughton, however, were dropped when the officer failed to appear in court. On October 8th, after Haughton was arrested for slashing her tires, Zina secured a restraining order that required Haughton to stay-away and turn in all firearms – an important protective measure as more than two-thirds of intimate partner fatalities are from gun wounds. However, two days after the restraining order was issued, Haughton legally purchased a handgun from a private owner. The next morning, Haughton entered the salon in which Zina worked and killed her along with two of her coworkers before turning the gun on himself.

This case raises a number of questions. How could it have reach this point? Do we need to include 48 hour waiting periods for gun purchases from private owners? Did the restraining order include a stay-away provision for the work place? Did the salon have any policies around domestic violence in the workplace or security? One thing is very clear: domestic violence is not just a personal issue, it is a community issue and needs a community response. Violence does not only occur in the home, it reaches into the community and affects every facet of a survivor’s life. Domestic violence and sexual assault are not uncommon in the workplace – domestic homicide is the primary cause of death for women at work. Abusers interfere at a survivor’s place of work to undermine her ability to be economically secure and independent; a tactic that is all too often successful – survivors lose nearly 10 days of paid work each year and 24% of survivors were asked to quit or were fired because of workplace interruptions. Workplaces must to respond not only ensure that survivors can safely work but to prevent violence from occurring at the workplace.

It is not only the responsibility of law enforcement and advocates to protect the safety of survivors but that of employers, schools, neighbors, and the various institutions that constitute our communities. As we mourn those lost, we need to come together and break this cycle of violence. We need the policies, systems and protections that will enhance every community’s ability to prevent tragedies such as this.


Meeting the Reentry Needs of Women

The US Department of Human Service’s Office on Women’s Health recent convened a conference, “Meeting the Reentry Needs of Women: Policies, Programs, and Practices” which highlighted the unique characteristics and challenges facing women with criminal records. While there have been a number similar conference on returning citizens, this was the first to focus on women.

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Survivors Need More Services that Focus on Promoting Economic Security

A new report from the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (NRCDV) and the University of Connecticut School of Social Work, Meeting Survivors’ Needs Through Non-Residential Domestic Violence Services & Supports: Results of a Multi-State Study, examines how well domestic violence programs meet the needs of survivors.


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The Long-term Consequences of Teen Dating Violence

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Sadly, teens and young women experience the highest rates of sexual assault, stalking and rape. The effects of teen dating violence go far beyond physical and emotional trauma. As a result of violence, teen survivors often experience higher rates of truancy, low academic achievement, social isolation and pregnancy, which can impact their future economic security.


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