The Justice Department's plan to give $625,000 to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence has come under virulent attack by right-wing organizations, and the result is that the grant, which was supposed to be announced on June 12 at a special showing at the Kennedy Center of "Battered Wives, Shattered Lives," is now officially "under review."
The coalition represents 717 of the more than 850 shelters for battered women and their children that have sprung up across the country in the last 15 years. It worked closely with the Attorney General's Task Force on Family Violence, which made 63 recommendations on how government institutions and communities could deal with family violence more effectively. The top Justice Department official assigned to the task force was Assistant Attorney General Lois Herrington, who is committed to making the justice system more responsive to victims of domestic violence and who has gone on record supporting the work of the national coalition.
The purpose of the grant, according to the coalition's executive director, Sharon Parker, was to prepare materials about the issue, to identify model programs, to develop a comprehensive directory of shelters, to provide ongoing liaison between shelters and law enforcement agencies and training for shelter workers, police and judges, and to develop public service announcements to help victims.
"It's not political," says Parker. "The goal is to find what works. We will not be able to do that without this grant."
Help for victims of domestic violence has never been a priority for the New Right, which lobbied against federal funding for shelters in the early years of the Reagan administration. The grant to the national coalition has been attacked by the Free Congress Foundation in the person of Pat McGuigan, director of its Institute for Government and Politics, who wrote Attorney General Ed Meese this letter:
"I've seen press reports that astonish me concerning this grant. So many of us have admired the work of Lois Herrington promoting the rights of victims of the criminal justice system. I suppose she has the impression that this grant will help battered women across the country. The truth of the matter is that the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence is a questionable recipient. Many leaders and activists of that organization have organized prohomosexual and prolesbian sessions trying to make the case that spousal abuse is somehow inherent in the marriage relationship. In short, the country may need to spend $600,000 to combat domestic violence, but it doesn't need to spend one red cent to finance liberal, antifamily activism."
Rep. Mark Siljander (R-Mich.) got 24 signatures from his colleagues on a letter he wrote Meese opposing the grant. Siljander's spokesman, Ron Brackin, said Siljander "and other members are all in favor of fighting domestic violence and supporting these women and helping them out," but he said the coalition "was being identified as prolesbian, proabortion, anti-Reagan radical feminists." Asked who identified the coalition that way, Bracken said: "That was information he had gotten from his initial research into the group." He said Siljander is "going to see if there are other groups that could accomplish the same thing."
Parker says the coalition has a lesbian task force that is concerned in part with lesbian battering. The coalition, she says, has taken no stand on abortion or President Reagan.
Lesbian-baiting is an old trick with New Right organizations. Patrick Fagan of the Free Congress Foundation accused the coalition in an interview of having a "definite stated agenda of promoting lesbian issues." That agenda turned out to be the task force.
He also said Herrington told him there was no other group that could do the work. That would seem to be the most important consideration. As Herrington wrote in a letter to The Washington Times on June 11: "I find it hard to believe that anyone, regardless of their political affiliation, could oppose assistance for those victimized in their own home by those they love. An effort designed to assist innocent spouses and children and the law enforcement agencies which address the problem is an effort designed to support the crucial unit of American life, the family. I suggest to you that anyone who takes an opposing view has simply failed to think the problem through."
That may be the most charitable analysis of the opposition. The other is that it comes from the age-old notion that a man's home is his castle, and if turns out to be the woman's prison, well, that's too bad.