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What a difference 30 years can make. In 1977 when the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence began there was only one program in the state working against rape and sexual assault and three programs to assist battered women. When the Coalition was founded there were no laws in New Hampshire providing protection for victims of domestic violence, and there was still a spousal exception to the sexual assault statute. Three decades ago services for victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault received no funding of any kind from the state. When a woman was raped she had to pay for the medical exam that collected evidence to prosecute her perpetrator.
In the past 30 years the number of programs to help survivors of domestic and sexual assault in our state has substantially increased. Today the Coalition is an umbrella organization for a statewide network of fourteen independent member programs committed to ending domestic and sexual violence and stalking. Today there are laws in New Hampshire asserting that violence against an intimate partner is a crime and victims are able to get protective orders quickly and freely. The Coalition now receives both state and federal funding, with most of the state marriage license fees going to the Coalition and its member programs. The state now pays for medical examinations of rape victims, and hospitals and police follow guidelines, developed with the Coalition’s help, to ensure that victims are treated appropriately and with sensitivity. Through such changes women and men are served more consistently, in a more timely fashion, with new efficiency, and more dignity and respect legally, socially, medically and emotionally.
In June of 1977, a group of women from across New Hampshire gathered together to address the critical issue of domestic violence, forming the New Hampshire Coalition on Battered Women. Only a few months after its establishment, the necessity of having a statewide grassroots organization to bring such issues into the public eye was reaffirmed when members of the State Commission on the Status of Women under Governor Meldrim Thomson stated that “feminism causes battering.” The Coalition countered this false claim, distributing its first press release stating, “It is outrageous and unconscionable to suggest wife beating is permissible under any circumstance.” By the end of the ‘70s, the Coalition was gaining momentum: new local service groups were forming around the state; advocates were gaining footholds in the legislative process; and funding was beginning to be secured.
In the 1980’s the Coalition was legally incorporated, having by then established its purpose, philosophy, and points of unity among its member groups. In 1981 the New Hampshire legislature passed a bill to establish the Domestic Violence Grant Program, allocating funds from the state marriage license fees to address domestic violence. That same year saw the repeal of the spousal exception to the state sexual assault statute. By the end of the decade the Coalition had changed its name to the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.
The 1990s brought significant changes. The Coalition was a key player in the reform of the New Hampshire’s sexual assault and domestic violence statutes. Multi-disciplinary protocols standardizing the treatment of domestic and sexual violence by the legal system, medical personnel, educators, and mental health professionals were released. Further funding flowed through the Coalition thanks to the passage of the Violence Against Women Act in 1996.
In the new millennium the Coalition has continued to work on behalf of victims, launching both a domestic violence and a sexual assault 24 hour statewide hotline. We have seen the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, ensuring that critical federal funding programs would continue to support local work.
The New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence has achieved many accomplishments over the past 30 years that have changed people’s thoughts, ideas, lives, and the very fabric of our culture. We will continue to promote social change and work toward the goal of a society free of violence for all.