Merry Lee Olson, Billings YWCA


YWCA Billings is writing to ask the Republican members of Montana’s congressional delegation to sign on as co-sponsors of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2018 (H.R. 6545). It is our understanding that no Republican has agreed to co-sponsor this bill.

YWCA Billings provides domestic violence prevention and safety; sexual assault and trafficking prevention; children’s and family development; and economic advancement services to women, children and men in a region that spans half of Montana — a vast land mass with few social services. Our programs rely on $428,000 in federal funding. Of that funding, $118,002 is provided through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

This funding allows us to make a real difference in our region by assisting more than 900 victims of gender-based violence (domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and dating violence) and human trafficking each year. Annually, the YWCA Billings services include:

  • More than 250 individuals are sheltered for 8,000+ shelter nights.
  • Legal assistance and professional counseling are offered at no charge to 200 victims.
  • Volunteers and staff accompany 90 sexual assault survivors to the hospital for forensic evidence collection exams.
  • 50 low-income adults assisted with obtaining education, training, and employment that leads to self-sufficiency.
  • In the past year our services reached 1,261 women, 374 girls, and 296 boys.
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While gender-based violence occurs everywhere and across all races, classes, and ethnic backgrounds, it occurs at disparate rates and with disproportionate impacts for women of color and other marginalized communities. One in three woman in our region will experience domestic violence, and more than three women are murdered by their partners each day nationally, and one in five women has been raped in her lifetime. American Indians are victims of rape or sexual assault at more than double the rate of other racial groups.

YWCA Billings strongly believes that all survivors of gender-based violence and human trafficking should have access to services and programs to help them recover, heal, and rebuild their lives. We are able to use our VAWA funding together with local, state and private funding to prevent and respond to gender-based violence both in our rural and urban service areas.

We ask that Congress support survivors of gender-based violence by supporting the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2018 (H.R. 6545).

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Merry Lee Olson is chief executive officer for YWCA Billings.