Voices from the Field with Deborah J. Vagins

October 29, 2020

THIS VOICES FROM THE FIELD, WE SPOTLIGHT THE WORK OF DEBORAH J. VAGINS, PRESIDENT & CEO OF THE NATIONAL NETWORK TO END DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, AND THEIR EFFORTS TO BUILD A GENDER EQUAL WORLD.

Q: What is your vision for ending domestic violence?

Our vision for ending domestic violence is three-fold. We want to make ending domestic violence a national priority by working closely with our members—the 56 state and territory coalitions against domestic violence—to understand the ongoing and emerging needs of survivors and the advocates who work with them and to elevate these needs to policymakers in Congress. We want to change the way society responds to domestic violence through a range of programs and initiatives, cross-sector collaborations, corporate and foundation partnerships, and direct support to survivors through tools like our WomensLaw.org Email Hotline, which provide free legal information to any in need.  And we want to strengthen domestic violence advocacy at every level by providing state coalitions with critical information and resources, training, and technical assistance, in order to develop comprehensive solutions that work.

Q: Why is the work of NNEDV more important than ever right now? 

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the advice around the world has been to “stay at home.” But we know that home is not a safe place for everyone, and we know that this ongoing crisis has further strained the already-limited resources available to survivors. Since March, we have been working closely with our member coalitions to respond to the evolving needs of survivors, advocates, and local programs. From creating and disseminating brand-new resources for the field, to partnering with The Allstate Foundation to distribute more than $500,000 to local programs in need, to securing the donation of nearly 80,000 KN95 masks and more than 100,000 surgical masks and face shields to advocates and programs, to raising awareness through initiatives like YouTube’s #ISeeYou public service video campaign — we are honored to leverage our resources and expertise to benefit local programs and the survivors who are counting on them amid so much uncertainty.

We know, too, that this crisis is far from over. It has created housing, childcare, economic, and other barriers that will continue to impact survivors for months, if not years. And these barriers fall disproportionately against survivors of color, disabled survivors, immigrant survivors, and others who already experience substantial discrimination and difficulty accessing resources. NNEDV will continue responding to these and other needs for as long as it takes, even after the pandemic itself begins to fade from the headlines.

Q: What does 2021 look like in terms of priorities, new opportunities for growth, and collaboration? 

We’re looking forward to learning from and building on the work of 2020. NNEDV commemorated our 30th anniversary this year, and while this turned out to not be a year of celebration, we are reminded every day how important our work is: to understand and respond to the needs of survivors and the advocates, coalitions, and local programs that help them. The multiple crises of 2020 – COVID-19, economic insecurity, and ongoing racial injustice – will continue into 2021 and our work must continue to be responsive to those needs. Read More

In responding to COVID-19, we’ve had the opportunity to work nimbly and creatively to sustain our existing funding and partnerships, while moving strategically to cultivate new relationships and imagine new ways of delivering support in a virtual world.  We created a COVID-19 Rapid Response team, integrating the knowledge of experts across our office to coordinate and share consistent guidance and material for domestic violence shelters and service providers, reaching thousands of local, state, territorial, and tribal organizations to help with the sudden shift to digital services and need for technical assistance. COVID-19 has also raised new challenges and hardships for survivors.  In 2021, we look forward to seeking out additional partnerships to support and expand some of our direct services work.  Our survivor-centered, trauma-informed expertise informs the personalized, free legal information shared by attorneys through the WomensLaw.org Email Hotline and the economic empowerment and credit building microloans provided through our experts with the Independence Project.

We also continue to face the tragic assaults on Black life in America and the need to confront the systemic racism that imperils survivors further. We’ve looked at our partnerships and practices, with an eye toward elevating the work of culturally specific providers who have been advocating tirelessly for survivors of color, often without recognition or attention.  We are also hosting conversations on criminal justice and other systems reforms necessary to center survivors of color and coalitions to work towards lasting social change.  As we look ahead to 2021, we’re excited to continue pursuing sustainable partnerships that can support this work into next year and beyond.

Q: And what can philanthropy do now to meet the needs of the movement?

Long before the pandemic, domestic violence programs have been drastically underfunded, often leaving them unable to meet the urgent needs of the survivors who depend on them. Our groundbreaking Domestic Violence Counts Report (an annual survey of domestic violence services sought within a 24-hour period) found that in just one day in 2019, more than 77,000 adults and children across the country accessed essential services like housing, counseling, and legal advocacy. But tragically, more than 11,000 adults and children were turned away that same day because local programs simply did not have the resources to meet their needs.

Now, when we think about programs’ additional burdens brought about by COVID-19—from paying for hotel rooms so survivors can socially distance, to upgrading technology so advocates can deliver services remotely, to buying PPE and cleaning supplies at astronomical markups—the need is absolutely staggering. Most advocates are no strangers to working within the confines of tight budgets, coming up with creative strategies and solutions to meet survivors where they are. Any amount of funding can be a lifeline for these programs and the survivors who are counting on them. However, national, state, and local domestic organizations are most in need of flexible, sustained, and multi-year funding so that they can work towards more long-term solutions once immediate needs are met.

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