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When welfare reform turns into a spouse-batterer's tool

July 12, 2000

When welfare reform turns into a spouse-batterer's tool



For many people, welfare reform was the push they needed to get out of the house, get training and get a job. But as West Virginia officials have discovered, for those who abuse their spouses, the reform program is just another tool to help them control their victims. Fortunately, a new state program is working to change that situation.

The sad reality of the situation was explained recently by Ann Menard, a special a special consultant to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services who spoke to a recent conference of advocates for the abused in Bridgeport, W.Va.

Menard explained that the very thing that welfare reform aims to do - create a self-sufficient worker - is just what most batterers try to prevent. If a woman is prevented from going to work or to training, under welfare reform, she could lose all benefits. For normal families, that would be a tragedy, but for a man abusing his wife, that loss of cash just strengthens his control over her.

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To counter that warped strategy, state officials put together something called the Family Violence Option. Three years in the planning stage, it encourages welfare case workers to identify victims, then refer them programs in which they can get support and guidance. Those who qualify can be exempted from training requirements and the federal five-year limit on benefits.

As part of the program, there'll be a Family Violence Option advocate in each of the state's 55 counties and job training and parenting classes as well.

One of the program's first successes has been bringing victim advocates into contact with Department of Health and Human Resources workers, who weren't picking up the signs of abuse, in part because they were interviewing couples, instead of speaking to husbands and wives separately.

State officials insist this is just a first step toward solving the problem of domestic violence, which is essentially learned behavior, passed down from one generation to the next. Now West Virginia - and the nation - need to work on a way to get such people to give up this nasty family tradition.

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