Opinion: The Climate Crisis Reaffirms the Need for Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention

Pacifica, a costal hamlet in Northern California, was among the many communities in the state impacted by severe weather this winter. Photo by Jason Doiy.

Working in various roles at a small, rural domestic violence agency I have had hundreds of interactions with victims and survivors of abuse over the last seven years. As our communities face more frequent climate disasters, it is essential that legislators and the Gov. Gavin Newsom prioritize funding to prevent cycles of violence and address these compounding crises.

When working with someone experiencing abuse, advocates focus on the tools they have at hand. Do you have a car? Perfect, let’s make sure you keep the tank full and know where the keys are in case you need to flee. Is there someone you can call for help? Great, make sure you keep your phone near you. But what happens when peoples’ resources are stripped away? What is a victim supposed to do when the roads are closed, the power is down, and nobody can make calls or receive text messages? 

Our rural community of Big Bear Valley has been impacted by multiple forest fires, mudslides, record drought, and most recently a series of blizzards that prompted a state of emergency. As we dig out, it is critical that legislators understand the myriad impacts of domestic violence and natural disasters driven by climate change, so that they can fund and implement more impactful ways to prevent both.

When inclement weather results in a state of emergency, survivors live in constant fear and uncertainty. Their basic needs go unmet when grocery stores go unstocked, food banks see their supplies dwindle, and the cost of utilities such as heating, gas and electricity increase dramatically due to lack of supply. Roads become impassable and telecommunication infrastructure fails, preventing them from reaching out to their support networks. Unfortunately, abuse of any kind always has the potential to turn deadly, but when abuse must coexist with climate disaster, a fatal outcome is an ever-present danger.

The compounded impacts of domestic and sexual violence haven’t been addressed: Funding to prevent this type of violence was left out of Newsom’s January budget proposal. There is no urgency from legislators to act and fund prevention this year. It is not seen as a crisis, and there is no consistent, ongoing funding from the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services at a level high enough to sustain prevention work in communities across the state. When will we start treating domestic violence and sexual assault as an emergency warranting consistent preventative funding? 

When going through these natural disasters and states of emergency in addition to experiencing abuse, survivors’ trauma is multiplied. To make matters worse, access to services such as shelter and counseling is impaired or stops altogether because of dangerous weather conditions. Too often, survivors are trapped in homes with their abusive partners, without the resources to keep themselves safe. 

It is frustrating knowing that we can prevent violence in the first place with proper education and services. Unfortunately, most programs aimed at preventing relationship violence are unable to grow and thrive due to lack of reliable funding. At my agency, we have been working to expand our prevention work for several years, but are hampered by lack of funding. We need legislators to invest in preventing domestic and sexual violence so that future generations won’t need to suffer through the fear and uncertainty that survivors in my community are currently facing. 

We are tasked with ending an epidemic of dangerous and violent relationships which are compounded in severity by these climate crises. Until our elected officials are willing to invest in prevention, I fear there will be little hope for improvement in the future. 

Quinton Page is the program director for DOVES of Big Bear Valley, which is located in the rural San Bernardino Mountains. 

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