Meet the Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence
What is it like to do domestic violence work in Montana?
Our members who serve in smaller communities deserve all of the gratitude we can give – many of them provide a variety of services with very small budgets and very limited resources. In other communities, there is a lot of support for the Coalition, the members in that area, and support for the victims and survivors who utilize our member programs. We try to provide training opportunities that are accessible to our members, but the remote nature of our state, and sometimes weather, can be a barrier for members accessing our events and trainings. However, despite the distance, we are still able to cultivate and maintain close relationships with many of our programs.
What impact does your unique Montana context have on this work?
Montana is the fourth largest state in the United States, with a population of a little over one million. We are fortunate to have easy access to public lands and national parks, and many of us live in close-knit, rural communities where we know our neighbors. However, the fact that we are so rural can make doing this work difficult. Outdoor recreation, including hunting and fishing, are an important part of many Montanans lives. It’s a challenge in our state to get Members of Congress and the general population to address issues regarding firearms, since most people own and have easy access to firearms.
Due to the geographical isolation of many of our communities, access to mental health services can also be limiting. Montana unfortunately has a very high suicide rate.
Eastern Montana was recently impacted by the Bakken Oil Boom in North Dakota. We have seen an increase in violent crimes, drug use, and human trafficking in that part of our state.
Most people who live in Montana identify as white, so there is a challenge in addressing cultural competency and generational trauma, especially as it applies to members of our seven Tribal Nations.
We attempt to combat some of these issues by dividing our membership into five geographic regions. We assist our members in addressing the problems that are unique or relevant to their region since there are not necessarily one-size-fits-all solutions for the entire state. We give members an opportunity to network and brainstorm with other programs by hosting regional meetings and organizing trainings on specific topics requested by those members.
What are the biggest barriers that survivors face in Montana?
Montana is a very rural state with many of our communities considered frontier. We rank 48th in the nation for population density. Not only do many victims of domestic violence experience isolation due to their partner’s abuse, but some people face the added burden of being miles away from a town, from personal support systems, and from resources in general. Our winters can be harsh and make traveling during that season dangerous or impossible. Most communities in Montana don’t have public transportation options. Many of our member programs serve multiple counties, so advocates have to travel to meet up with victims who are not able to travel to them. Lack of access to shelters or housing is the most common barrier for survivors.
What’s happening in Montana that you’re excited about? Proud of?
We were very proud to help pass multiple bills in 2017 that impact victims of both domestic and sexual violence and childhood sexual abuse. A major victory for us was passing SB 153, a standalone statute for strangulation. We know that strangulation is a high lethality indicator, so it was important that we joined the ranks of other states whose laws recognize that fact. We are also proud to collaborate with our partners such as the ACLU of Montana and the Montana Human Rights Network. Many victims of domestic violence face other barriers or forms of oppression that make it difficult for them to establish safety and security. Collaborations and partnerships are essential to our work, so we value these relationships and the projects that we take on together.
Are there any champions in Montana that you’d like to thank or celebrate for their record or work on domestic violence?
The director of the Office of Consumer Protection and Victim Services, Matthew Dale, has been a long-time champion in our state. He established the Montana Fatality Review Commission, which seeks to reduce homicides caused by family violence by identifying gaps in Montana’s system for protecting victims of domestic violence. The Commission, which the Coalition and Coalition members have sat on, also aims to improve the coordination between the agencies that interact with victims, and improve protections for those who are most at risk of domestic violence. Recently, Matthew developed a Fatality Review Commission specific to reviewing cases that occur on Montana’s Native Indian reservations, which is a first in the country.
Another champion is Attorney General Tim Fox, who created a taskforce and advisory board to review cases of child abuse and neglect. Current and former MCADSV board members are part of this taskforce. We appreciate the efforts of both of these individuals to devote time to improving the systems that victims and survivors of violence interact with and utilize.
How is your coalition working to end domestic violence?
We are working to end domestic violence in Montana by engaging with and listening to our member programs. We try to provide our members with comprehensive trainings and resources so they can successfully do the difficult work they do. We are also fortunate enough to have a very strong presence at our state legislature. Our Executive Director and Public Policy and Legal Director advocate tirelessly for our members and the victims and survivors they work with. Our presence at the Capitol has resulted in many progressive policies, like extending equal domestic violence protections to same-sex couples. We also regularly engage in public education and outreach to inspire and mobilize community members across the state.
If your coalition was a musician or music group, who would you be and why?
We have a wide variety of musical tastes among our staff, but if we were a musician we would be Demi Lovato. She has overcome personal challenges and setbacks much like our Coalition— adapting and thriving under challenging circumstances like changes in leadership or reduced funding sources. Demi is confident, energetic, honest, and inspires many of her fans, as we hope we inspire and lead our members.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
MCADSV celebrated our 30th anniversary in 2016, a milestone that we reached due to the many years of strong leadership of past and current executive directors, board members, and staff. We currently have eight staff that all bring different talents and skills to the Coalition, and contribute to the success of the team. Succession planning and sustainability have become priorities of the Coalition in recent years. Our goal is to build upon our strengths and ensure that MCADSV can continue working towards ending violence in Montana for years to come.