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Summit explores money’s role in combating rural family violence

Experts in the field gathered Friday in Northampton to address the problem in a daylong summit held by the Massachusetts Rural and Domestic Violence Project at the Smith College Conference Center.

Organizers said the summit took a new approach to the problem of rural domestic violence by looking at the issue of economic security.

Money is a central concern for victims in rural areas because abusers may cut off their access to money, education and employment, advocates say.

The situation worsens in rural areas because families often live far from transportation centers, schools, hospitals and other social services.

Some of these victims keep silent about domestic violence because they don’t know that help is available, conference participants said.

During Friday’s event, 50 agencies and more than 120 people gathered to explore partnerships and find practical solutions to the economic straits of victims.

“Both survivors of domestic violence and their advocates have known for a long time that it’s very difficult for victims to be safe or seek safety if they don’t have economic security or stability,” said Becca Bradburd, one of the event’s organizers. “But no one has looked on a systemic level at what to do about that. That’s the point of this conference.”

What makes it usual, people involved say, is that the approach links forces between anti-poverty agencies and those that focus on family violence.

The summit, Bradburd said, is a way for domestic violence agencies and survivors to share promising practices and programs.

Amy Waldman, project director of the Massachusetts Rural Domestic and Sexual Violence Project, which is funded by the state Department of Public Health, said her agency provides services to domestic violence survivors in 84 rural communities of western Massachusetts.

“We’re in consultation with national experts and taking the best practices from innovative programs in our region and from other parts of the state to infuse our work with an understanding of the systems at play that perpetuate violence and poverty,” she said in a statement.

Along with keynote speakers from New York and Washington, the conference offered workshops by different programs that have developed successful strategies to support survivors’ economic self-sufficiency.

Representatives of the Family Independence Initiative, a nationwide organization now in the process of expansion, spoke of a hands-off approach in which staff members let families recovering from abuse and violence monitor and manage their own progress.

“They set their own goals,” said Chrismaldi Vazquez, associate director of the agency’s new Boston office. “We provide a stipend of up to $2,000 per year in compensation for their economic progress data.”

This approach has allowed participating families to move out of poverty within two years, the program reports, and to reach realistic goals.

“I was able to save money to buy a car,” said Cynda Pinto, a domestic violence survivor who serves as a family ambassador at the agency. “If I didn’t have (the program), I don’t know where I would have gotten that little bit of extra money to put aside, and for a single mother of four, it’s a really big deal to have transportation.”

Participants and sponsors were cheered by the conference’s work. “I think it’s wonderful that there’s been standing room only,” said Mary R. Lauby, executive director of Jane Doe Inc., one of the event’s sponsors. “The place is packed and overflowing. Economics is a human rights issue.”

Organizers do not yet know whether the summit will be held next year, though they proclaimed it a success. “This is the first time we’re doing this, but we actually had to turn people away,” Bradburd said.

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