PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — A substantial grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women will help the Battered Women’s Project reach out to assist even more victimized women across Aroostook County.
Representatives from the state’s congressional delegation announced earlier this week that seven Maine organizations had been awarded more than $4.6 million to help reduce domestic dating violence.
Part of that award, $317,924, went to the Battered Women’s Project.
The Battered Women’s Project provides comprehensive support, advocacy, crisis intervention, emergency shelter and transitional services to individuals whose lives are affected by domestic violence in Aroostook County.
Francine Stark, executive director of the BWP, tagged the funding as “rebuilding money,” which will help the organization replace staff lost in funding cuts two years ago.
“This is a two-year grant that we are going to use to build staff capacity in the St. John Valley and in Caribou,” said Stark. “This is going to help us serve the population all the way up to northern Aroostook.”
Stark said the funding loss encountered in 2007 meant that four staffers had to be laid off. The cutbacks forced the organization to scale back outreach efforts and other programs.
“In the St. John Valley, we haven’t been able to do as much outreach and other programs as we would like,” she said, noting that the BWP has one staff member at its Fort Kent shelter and one at the transitional housing unit in Madawaska. “We have two people up there trying to do all the work. We want to work more with law enforcement, health care providers and legal staff to make the connections we need to help those who have been victimized. This money is going to help us do it.”
Stark said she was not sure whether the organization was seeing an increase in domestic violence in areas of northern Aroostook.
“We never know what we don’t know,” said Stark. “We get calls from people who need help from throughout The County, and we have not been able to do the outreach that we would like to do. Outreach is important because it helps identify victims and educate more people about the help available if they are [affected] by domestic violence. Now we will be able to do more to help more people.”
U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins said they were pleased to hear the news.
“Each year in Maine alone, hundreds of women survive domestic violence and dating violence. This funding will help an organization that is dedicated to ensuring that battered women are supported and that abusers are held accountable,” they said in a joint statement.
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud agreed.
“This is important funding for our state,” said Michaud. “We all share the goal of reducing domestic abuse, sexual assault and dating violence in Maine and across the country. This funding will help lead to greater awareness of the issue, and more importantly, a decrease in the number of these tragic cases through increased outreach, analysis and coordination.”
According to the Maine Department of Public Safety, last year Maine had the highest rate of murders in many years, more than 60 percent of which were related to domestic violence.
The DOJ’s Office on Violence Against Women is committed to improving the response to violent crimes against women, including the crimes of sexual assault, domestic violence and dating violence. In order to accomplish this, the program emphasizes the coordination of victim services.