Relationship Violence Services of Missoula ramps up rural programs with new grant

A $750,000 federal grant awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women will go far in helping Relationship Violence Services of Missoula enhance victim safety in rural areas, including Seeley Lake and Mineral County, advocates said Tuesday.

Kelly McGuire of Relationship Violence Services said the latest award marks the third time her office has received the grant, which aims to help victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking in rural communities.

“It funds things like gas cards for rural victims to get to safety,” McGuire said. “Often, folks who are experiencing violence in rural communities have a hard time getting out of that situation.”

The funding also encourages collaborative partnerships between criminal agencies, victim services and community organizers.

McGuire said they included the Missoula YWCA, the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office, Mineral County, the University of Montana and Seeley Lake Elementary School, among others.

“It also funds prevention education in rural schools, and it funds a new batterer’s intervention program that’s going to be starting up in Mineral County,” McGuire said. “They specifically requested it as a need in their community.”

President Obama signed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act in 2013, amending the original act signed into law in 1994.

McGuire said the definition of rural changed several years ago, eliminating rural areas outside Missoula, such as Potomac. But that narrow definition has since been reversed, allowing areas outside Missoula proper to count as rural in terms of the grant and the services it provides.

Including Mineral County made the grant more competitive, McGuire said.

“They’re a very rural, isolated county,” she said. “They have an extreme lack of services out there. When people aren’t getting services in Mineral County, they’re going to come to Missoula anyway.”