U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a champion in the Senate for survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse, joined a bipartisan group of senators calling on Congress to include support for victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in the next phase of COVID-19 relief legislation. Historically, instances of domestic violence have increased in times of national crisis and, according to the United Nations, there has been “horrifying global surge in domestic violence” as citizens around the world have been required to stay home to stop the spread of COVID-19. Prior to passage of the CARES Act in March, Senator Gillibrand called on the Trump administration to ensure that organizations that help victims and survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence have the funding and resources needed to provide these critical services during the coronavirus pandemic. While the CARES Act did provide more than $45 million in support for domestic violence services, Senator Gillibrand expressed concern that additional funding and stronger programs are essential for domestic violence and sexual assault service providers, law enforcement, and transitional housing programs.
“Sexual assault and domestic violence are devastating to families and children all across our state, and the COVID-19 pandemic has put victims and survivors at even greater risk,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Unfortunately, recent reports show that abusers have used the outbreak of coronavirus to isolate their victims, withhold financial resources, and refuse medical aid. For far too many, staying at home is not safe and Congress has a duty to protect our most vulnerable families. I’m proud to fight for expanded resources and funding for providers of domestic abuse and sexual assault so they are better equipped to meet this unique and growing challenge.”
Rape crisis centers are seeing increased need for services and are confronting complex and difficult requests, and in communities across the country, local law enforcement agencies are receiving an increased number of domestic violence-related calls. Meanwhile, domestic violence service providers and rape crisis centers are facing a severe strain on resources that is expected to disproportionally impact underserved populations, such as black and Latino communities and rural areas. The letter calls for additional support for sexual assault or domestic violence-related programs funded through the Department of Justice, including programs authorized by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and allocated funds for tribal communities.
Full text of the letter can be found HERE and below.
Dear Leader McConnell, Leader Schumer, Chairman Shelby, and Vice Chairman Leahy:
We write to respectfully request that any future legislation to address the ongoing coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) provides funding to support victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, including through programs authorized by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). At a time when people who experience domestic violence are at increased risk, and requests for sexual assault and domestic violence-related services have sharply increased, additional funding for these programs is critical.
On Sunday, April 5, 2020, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called for governments around the world to help address the “horrifying global surge in domestic violence” by making services for victims and survivors a “key part of their national response plans for COVID-19.” The United States must demonstrate leadership in this effort by continuing to provide the additional resources needed to support at-risk families and children.
Historically, instances of domestic violence have increased in times of national crisis—and this crisis may be particularly dangerous for people who experience domestic violence. Following the urging of public health officials, approximately 95% of Americans are now living under a stay-at-home order to help prevent the spread of the virus. But for many, home is not a safe place. Reports suggest that abusers are using COVID-19 to isolate their victims, withhold financial resources, and refuse medical aid. Rape crisis centers are seeing increased need for services and are confronting complex and difficult requests. And in communities across the country, local law enforcement agencies are receiving an increased number of domestic violence-related calls.
Domestic violence service providers across the country are facing funding and staffing challenges related to the pandemic and have seen an increased need for services including crisis intervention, shelter and transitional housing, and legal assistance. Rape crisis centers need funding to shift their services from in-person to virtual and meet the emergency needs of survivors. This strain on resources is expected to disproportionally impact traditionally underserved populations such as black and Latino communities as well as people who live in rural areas.
American Indian and Alaska Native communities in particular face disparities in shelter capacity and resources that have been exacerbated by the virus, and many of these communities already experience overcrowding in homes and a lack of sanitation services. We ask that Tribal sovereignty is acknowledged and that the federal government fulfill its trust responsibility to Indian Tribes by providing equitable resources to American Indian and Alaska Native communities to address domestic violence.
Shelters and Tribal advocacy programs are often all that stand between safety and Native women going missing and/or murdered (MMIW). In addition, because many rural Tribal communities lack the necessary infrastructure to take advantage of internet-based options, we ask that there be outreach to these communities whether from the federal departments or through enlistment of technical advisers who have established relationships with many of these communities.
We appreciate that the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provided $45 million for domestic violence services funded through the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act and $2 million for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
While this funding provides critical resources, the legislation did not include any additional support for sexual assault or domestic violence-related programs funded through the Department of Justice. These programs deliver essential support that is particularly needed at this time, including support for sexual assault service providers, law enforcement, and transitional housing programs, as well as for organizations that address the needs of communities of color and underserved populations.
Therefore, we respectfully request that any future legislation to address COVID-19 include the following:
Support through the Department of Justice
• At least $100 million for the Sexual Assault Service Program;
• At least $225 million for VAWA STOP Grants with a priority on flexible funding for victim service providers, with at least 20 percent of the funding for eligible entities under 34 U.S.C. § 20124(c) and equitable distribution of funding between services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault;
• At least $10 million for Grants for Outreach and Services to Underserved Populations; and,
• At least $40 million to VAWA Transitional Housing Assistance Grants.
• We also request that the matching fund requirements for the Victims of Crime Act grants be waived during this crisis to more quickly meet survivors’ needs.
Set-aside assistance for Tribes and Tribal Organizations
• VAWA programs:
o $22.5 million for grants to Tribal governments;
o $10 million to Tribes under the Sexual Assault Services Program;
o $3 million to Tribal jurisdiction; and
o $3 million to Tribal coalitions.
• Office of Victims of Crime: $16,765,000 additional set aside for Tribal governments.
As we work together to address the health, wellness, and economic security of all Americans, we urge you to support victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Thank you for your attention to this important matter and your consideration of this request.