"#WhyIStayed Because I was convinced the abuse was my fault."
"#WhyIStayed Because he ruined my credit so I couldn't make it on my own."
"#WhyIStayed Because I didn't want to uproot my kids from the only school and community they'd ever known."
"#WhyIStayed Because he told me if I left, he'd kill me."
Over the last few weeks, thousands of domestic violence survivors have come forward to share stories like these. Their voices bring to light the barriers to safety that victims face every single day and the complexities of domestic violence.
How do we turn the insight gleaned from the #WhyIStayed conversation into sustained action? We must honor these courageous survivors by working to end domestic violence.
"#HowIHelped I donated to a domestic violence organization."
"#HowIHelped I answer the phones of my local hotline one night a week."
"#HowIHelped I volunteer at my local shelter."
"#HowIHelped I talked to my kids about domestic violence and healthy relationships."
"#HowIHelped I asked the better question: 'Why does he hit her?'"
What we need is a growing conversation around #HowIHelped. For everyday men and women to share what they can and are doing to help end violence -- and for that trend to reach Capitol Hill. As President Obama said recently while launching a campaign to stop campus sexual assault, "We're here to say it's not on you; you're not alone. This is on all of us."
You can help by making sure that increased funding for domestic violence programs and services is a priority for Members of Congress. The Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA), which will be up for reauthorization next year (remember how much trouble we had reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act?) provides support to over 1,500 local domestic violence shelters and programs across the country, which provide emergency shelter, counseling, legal assistance, child care, job readiness, and financial education to victims in need.
If shelters did not exist, the consequences for victims would be catastrophic, leaving thousands with no other options than homelessness, continued abuse, or even death. Yet many of these lifesaving programs struggle to keep their doors open.
Funding cuts and a rough economic climate have resulted in more victims with fewer resources to seek assistance.
In just one day, on September 13, 2013, our 24-hour National Census reported that 66,581 domestic violence victims and their children received help and found safety. However, on that same day, 9,641 requests for services were denied due to lack of resources: in the preceding year, 1,696 staff had been laid off or positions left unfilled, and hundreds of programs had to reduce or eliminate vital services due to funding cuts.
The answer to #WhyIStayed should never be "because the shelter was full," but it often is.
On October 9, 2014, during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we will celebrate FVPSA's 30th anniversary. We will celebrate the countless lives saved and transformed by this cornerstone of the federal government's response to domestic violence. We will also call upon our leaders to help fulfill the promise of FVPSA -- and we urge you to join us.
Be part of the #HowIHelped movement by contacting your Senators and Representative and asking them to invest in FVPSA and support pathways to safety for victims of domestic violence.
Kim Gandy is the president and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence and the organizing host of the Chefs Take a Stand to End Domestic Violence event on October 9 in Washington, DC. For more information and to join us for the celebration, visit nnedv.org/chefsevent.