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Meanwhile the DV industry congratulates itself on another success, because they are there only to provide temporary housing, with divorce and relocation assistance to ensure the woman cannot or will not try to be a stay-at-home mom.

Kady M. Trudy W. Schuett Leslie Loftis

The problem with VAWA grant programs, aside from their general tendency to be simply mismanaged very, very badly in everyday business terms, is a problem of perverse incentives.

Programs which, in name, purport to be seeking to relieve (or a favorite industry term, “eradicate”) violence against women, and do so case-by-case, are actually geared in real-world terms to prolong and perpetuate them.

One can learn a great deal about mindsets and world views among these organizations by reading these audit reports which I point to continually.

They are lengthy documents, made up of half bureaucratic boilerplate which appears in identical language in every one of them, and the other half of dialogue which has ensued between a team of federal auditors and a program’s management during an audit procedure.

The auditors will (always) find naked examples of bad management, and the organization will in turn attempt to explain them away. If you read enough of these, you begin to see a pattern of excuse-making and blameshifting to rival the most creative of five-year-olds caught with hands in cookie jars.

And the reason the money continues to flow, has to do with a category in each report called “Program Goals and Accomplishments.”

This is where the perverse incentives dwell:

A program’s goals, are to find and reputedly serve a given number of cases of various forms of abuse, and the terms of the grant dictate that the org find them and serve them, or face not being funded again when the next grant application is due.

This means, that to “eradicate” domestic violence or any other form of abuse named as a concern, would run counter to the non-profit’s own interests, which are primarily to stay in business and for management and employees and contractors to continue being paid for whatever it is they do.

This is mitigated, by demonstrating “accomplishments.”

Yes, a given org will state, we were funded to find and serve x-number of cases, and find them and serve them we did.

What isn’t discussed, is HOW that number of cases came into being in the first place. When an executive director is halfway through a grant cycle and sees the caseload numbers not being on target for the next grant, does anyone above age ten actually believe that this person will then say, “great! This means we’re eradicating violence against women! Guess I’ll just have to find me another job, knowing I helped save the world from abusive men…”

No such thing.

Instead, they do whatever is necessary, to keep the caseload numbers increasing.

One org created a gift-card program, purchasing gift cards from local grocers and gas stations, to be handed out by staff for the asking, kept in an unlocked drawer in a front office of a high-turnover employer in a small town, where anyone who was in the office could simply pass the things out. Whereupon each time a card was handed to some lady who just walked in the door because she heard there were free groceries to be had, this is made into an entry in a log, and becomes a “case.”

Goals met, victims served, world saved…. and grant, renewed.

Consider this entry from a table of “objectives”, from an audit of a tribal group in North Carolina:

Cultivate balanced, independent lives through culturally specific program services.

What, exactly, does any of this mean?

What is a “balanced, independent life”, precisely? How does one codify and then record such a thing, as an “accomplishment”?

And this term “culturally specific” emerges constantly in these documents, but what does it mean? That anyone not a tribal member, in this instance, or a Person of Color, in other such appearances of the term, will be turned away beaten and bruised, for not being of a “specific culture”?

But all that aside, this quote is part of an official document which is meant to address questions of accountability to public funding, and whether that funding ought to be renewed or withheld. So, apparently, it means whatever it has to mean.

Here’s another, from the same report:

Increase the number of American Indian women and children survivors.

Aside from the non sequitur nature of this being ludicrous on its face, what could this possibly mean? How does one “increase the number” of “survivors” of anything? Given that what it is they might be trying to survive is vague and undefined in any statistical sense, could it be that the only way to increase numbers of “survivors” is to increase, by any means necessary, the numbers of cases?

And why only “American Indian women and children”? Are there not men in the neighborhood made homeless by abusive women? Are there not men, women and children who are not native American, who might benefit just as well, from surviving? Would a Sioux or Apache or Navajo who happened to be visiting from several states away be eligible to “survive” where a local non-Indian would not?

And my personal favorite:

Increase the number of American Indian women and children survivors acquiring permanent housing.

Having spent nearly four decades in the housing industry, and knowing full well that reservation construction projects are notoriously synonymous with shoddy work, missing materials, sweetheart contracts, graft and profiteering, could this mean anything BUT:

…taking advantage of this NPO’s grant terms, by first making their cases “culturally specific” (meaning they qualify to apply for reservation housing),

…making them to serve only “women and children” (meaning each household will almost certainly also be dependent on multiple other forms of public assistance, one NPO scratching another’s back by creating cases for them, in the bargain),

…and decreeing that the newly-formed household will also be “permanent” (meaning the welfare-dependencies will be too, and also that every time Mom’s Boyfriend gets kicked out, a new “violence against women” case can go on the record.)

The above, is only one set of examples from one report about one grantee, but the language and logic used is totally consistent across all of them, which reveal that the perverse incentive all of them operate under is simply:

To create caseloads, by whatever means are available.

And this, in service of a program advertised as meaning to “eradicate” something?