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WomenSafe nets big grant to battle domestic violence

MIDDLEBURY — WomenSafe has won a $753,166 federal grant that will allow the Middlebury nonprofit to continue its fight against domestic violence and sexual assault in Addison County and neighboring Rochester.
The grant is actually a three-year extension in funding for which WomenSafe first successfully applied through the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office of Violence Against Women back in 2007. It is money the DOJ has earmarked for rural communities needing help in combatting crimes against women — including dating violence and stalking.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., was a big supporter of WomenSafe’s grant application. He is a longtime supporter of the Violence Against Women Act, first enacted in 1994 to provide a comprehensive approach to reducing domestic and sexual violence against women.
 “More than half of all Vermont homicides continue to result from domestic violence — a very sad statistic for our state,” Leahy said in an emailed response to a request for comment for this story. “This critical grant will allow WomenSafe to enhance services in underserved communities in Addison County and the town of Rochester, and will include outreach to migrant workers and to the LGBT community. We must protect and support all victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, and this grant will help make that happen.”
Kerri Duquette-Hoffman, executive director of WomenSafe, said she’s “thrilled” to see her organization prevail in what was a lively competition for limited federal funds. She believes the competition was as fierce as it was almost three years ago when WomenSafe was one of around 35 organizations to receive DOJ grants from a field of more than 250 applicants.
“The odds are terrible,” Duquette-Hoffman said, “but this is our fourth time receiving (the grant).”
She believes the strength of WomenSafe’s application and its proven track record in helping victims of domestic violence and sexual assault enhanced the organization’s chances.
“Our community is really why we got this grant,” Duquette-Hoffman said. “That fact that our sheriff’s office, our state’s attorney, our batterers’ intervention (providers) all work together so well to write a grant, I think sends a message that things are working well in our community and the programs are worth supporting.”
It should be noted that the $753,166 grant will also help the Addison County State’s Attorney’s office by providing ongoing, full-time funding for special prosecutor Dennis Wygmans and part-time funding for investigator Peter Newton. Wygmans specializes in domestic violence/sex assault cases. Newton, a detective sergeant with the Addison County Sheriff’s Department, now works for the state’s attorney’s office investigating cases that show up on Wygmans’ desk.
In addition to the Newton and Wygmans positions, the DOJ grant will also provide funding for:
• A half-time victims’ advocate at the state’s attorney’s office. Courtney Hudgens currently works in that position, and also works part-time for the sheriff’s department.
• A full-time victims’ advocate and a part-time education/outreach specialist at WomenSafe. Funding might also allow  for a second, part-time education/outreach specialist, according to Duquette-Hoffman.
• A batterers’ intervention program, to be offered by two local woman, Melissa Deas and Kim Kimler. As its name implies, this program will deliver programming to individuals convicted of domestic assault. The DOJ grant will provide limited funding for the program, but Duquette-Hoffman is hopeful that fees paid by enrollees will help sustain it.
• Assistance for survivors of domestic and sexual violence through Community Associates, a division of the Counseling Service of Addison County.
• Joint training sessions with the Pride Center of Vermont, an organization dedicated to “advancing community and the health and safety of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) Vermonters.” These training sessions will help officials better promote WomenSafe’s services to LGBTQ Vermonters.
WomenSafe serves 450 to 500 clients each year and fields 4,500 to 5,000 visits and phone calls annually at its office and through its 24-hour hotline for women in crisis (388-4205 or 1-800-388-4205).
Among the ongoing challenges for WomenSafe clients is a shortage of affordable housing, according to Duquette-Hoffman. She explained women exiting abusive relationships can suddenly find themselves with a much smaller income, or none at all, thus making it difficult or impossible for many of them to afford a market-rate apartment in which to live and raise their children.
“The housing shortage really impacts survivors in Addison County in a big way,” Duquette-Hoffman said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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