Sometimes, a problem is so pervasive, it becomes invisible. Gender-based violence — sexual assault, domestic violence, trafficking — seems to capture our attention when a startling statistic or story lands on the front page. But gender-based violence takes a toll on victims and our community every day, and that collective trauma rarely makes headlines.
Over 40% of Washington women will experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime and experiencing sexual assault poses the greatest risk for developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Other outcomes are even more severe with domestic violence homicides in King County being four times higher in 2021 than in 2019, according to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
Despite efforts to elevate the conversation about gender-based violence, it still takes enormous courage for survivors to speak out. When they do, survivors need immediate supportive advocacy designed for their specific needs. Survivors have shared that they need access to stable housing, counseling, legal support, community connection and safety planning.
These services exist here in King County. Gender-based violence programs support survivors with varied experiences of violence and harm. They support the teen who is being forced into prostitution, the child being sexually abused, LGBTQ+ people beaten for living their truth, the 20-year-old raped by an acquaintance, and the mother living in her car trying to escape an abusive partner.
Calls from survivors for such assistance are at an all-time high. A 2020 survey by the Coalition Ending Gender Based Violence showed 56% of providers experienced a significant increase in the number of survivors seeking help. All reported increased severity and complexity of survivors’ needs amid increased violence and pandemic stressors. The situation has become significantly more dire, with several agencies reporting two to three times the number of calls in the first weeks of 2022.
Programs have been financially strained and understaffed for decades. King County funding for these services has never matched the actual need and the gap has only grown larger as the county’s population swelled by 18% over the last decade.
Even as millions of new dollars rolled into King County to cope with COVID, very little was dedicated to stabilizing services for children and adult victims, many of whom were forced to stay at home with their abusers.
County leaders must find ways this year to realistically fund community-based advocacy services to ensure survivors get the help they need when they need it and heal from the impacts of abuse.
As service providers stand on the brink of collapse, survivors are finding fewer options for safety, housing, economic stability, and emotional well-being. The risk that a survivor will not get the help they need — immediately or ever — is real.
Community-based organizations, many of which are BIPOC led and culturally specific, offer the most effective path to meeting the diverse needs of survivors and can prevent more costly legal, health and homelessness interventions. It’s worth noting that gender-based violence is the leading cause of homelessness for women, children, and young people. Finally, additional investments in culturally specific gender-based violence programs are critical as economic and racial disparities continue to widen in an increasingly diverse county.
We desperately need a significant, long-term increase in county funding that sustains the full range of survivor services. In the short term, organizations need immediate bridge funding to reduce wait lists, turn-aways, and avoid the potential closures of entire programs.
Our county leaders must meaningfully address these gaps in funding. Executive Constantine and King County council members have several opportunities this year to stabilize and sustain community-based services as they allocate COVID relief, draft supplemental and biennial budgets, and identify funding priorities in renewal of the Veterans, Seniors, and Human Services Levy.
King County officials should consider the message they are sending survivors every time they decide how to spend money. Do they stand with survivors of gender-based violence, or will they allow them to struggle alone?