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Saturday, April 14, 2012

Shaheen meets with advocates against domestic violence to discuss Violence Against Women Act

NASHUA – Nashua and New Hampshire don’t get mind-blowing amounts of money through the Violence Against Women Act, but the impact is immeasurable, according to advocates.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen met with Mayor Donnalee Lozeau, Police Chief John Seusing and state and local advocates against domestic violence about why it’s vital the law is re-authorized during an expected U.S. Senate vote next week.

“It really impacts people’s lives in a way that is dramatic,” Shaheen said during her visit to Bridges: Domestic & Sexual Violence Support in Nashua. “It’s been so important in helping to address the people you see every day and their situations.”

Before the brief roundtable, Shaheen toured the East Pearl Street offices and met privately with a group of domestic violence survivors.

Seusing said city police respond to around 2,000 domestic violence incidents resulting in 700-900 arrests annually. Those numbers aren’t increasing, he said, but they’re not slowing down either.

That’s a big part of the reason Nashua police established a three-person domestic violence unit, plus a domestic violence advocate nearly a decade ago, he said.

There’s some doubt about the act’s re-authorization – which is co-sponsored by Shaheen and Sen. Kelly Ayotte – because of concerns that the act would help domestic violence victims who are gay or illegal immigrants, Shaheen said.

Kim France, executive director of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said who the act covers shouldn’t be a consideration.

“It’s not a policy issue. It’s a social justice issue,” she said.

More than 16,000 people went to programs overseen by the New Hampshire Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence last year, an increase of 3 percent from 2010, according to statistics published by the group.

People seeking help as victims of sexual assault decreased slightly from 2,137 to 2,111, a decrease of about 1.2 percent.

But victims of domestic abuse increased by 4.3 percent in 2011, from 8,569 to 8,941.

Another 743 people tapped coalition services after being stalked, a 6.4 percent increase from 698 the previous year.

The coalition gets just under $500,000 from the bill, including about $135,000 for direct services such as outreach specialists, counselors and visitation centers.

Other money goes to a variety of legal and law enforcement groups, France said.

“We’re not talking big money, but we’re talking big impact,” she said.

Lozeau said it has taken a lot of work to make stigmatize domestic violence over the last several decades. To lose momentum now would be devastating.

“The numbers reflect that we’re doing a good job giving them a safe place to go,” she said. “Losing any of that ground would be a horrible thing.”

Dawn Reams, Bridges executive director, said every funding source the agency gets was slashed this year, except Nashua’s annual contribution.

Joseph G. Cote can be reached at 594-6415 or jcote@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Cote on Twitter (@Telegraph_JoeC).