(The Center Square) – Oregon needs to do better to combat domestic violence, an Oregon Secretary of State audit released this week found.
The report noted that over 500 residents of the state were killed due to domestic violence over 11 years — and it said the state is failing victims.
Over one-third of the state’s adults experience domestic violence in their lifetimes, making it a widespread problem, according to a release from the Secretary of State’s office.
The state lacks a specific agency to deal with domestic violence. Courts, police, housing, social services, and nonprofits all help domestic violence victims, so the audit did not target one individual agency.
“Domestic violence is pervasive, immensely harmful, and often fatal,” Audits Director Kip Memmott said. “This is an area where state government can do more to help. As auditors, we are uniquely positioned to provide state leaders with information and offer potential solutions on critical issues of public health and safety.”
Issues exist in many agencies that prevent victims from getting help, the report said.
One issue it noted is that unnecessary bureaucracy requires agencies to spend more time filling out paperwork — rather than helping victims.
It also said funding for certain programs is also inadequate. It noted that a federal program to offer temporary help for domestic violence victims offers up to $1,200 over 90 days; that figure has remained unchanged since 1997 despite over 26 years of inflation.
Additionally, the report said a lack of affordable housing in the state keeps victims trapped.
Plus, rural social service agencies have fewer available resources to assist victims in finding things like housing, childcare and financial aid compared to urban ones.
Notably, four of the state’s rural counties (Gillam, Sherman, Wasco, and Wheeler) only have one domestic violence services nonprofit between them. The one nonprofit recently had its former director arrested for embezzling funds, according to the report.
The state’s court system also contributes to these problems.
If a domestic violence victim seeks a non-contact order, they have to navigate the court system, even if they cannot afford an attorney. However, organizations that help people who cannot afford a lawyer only have the available resources to serve 15% of victims who want help, the report said.
If successful in getting a protective order, the victim still might not be safe. Police do not always arrest those who violate protective orders. Police may just take a report over the phone in some instances, according to the report.
“I am horrified at the numbers in this report showing how pervasive and dangerous domestic violence is, both nationwide and in Oregon,” Oregon Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade said.
State auditors want lawmakers to create a strategy to address the biggest issues the state faces in combatting domestic violence.
They also want the state to have a more centralized approach and to make data-sharing between agencies feasible. Additionally, they recommend that lawmakers make it so nonprofits that service victims receive permanent, adjusted-for-inflation funding rather than sporadic grants.