The current COVID-19 crisis is making it even more difficult for survivors of domestic violence to seek help. Health systems are overloaded, making it difficult for women to access medical care and therapists. And fear of contracting the virus is stopping many from going to shelters that are equipped to help them. Add that to a growing number of complaints that abusers are using the virus as an excuse to perpetuate violence at home, and courts currently aren’t able to handle protection order enforcements — we are looking at a full-fledged domestic violence crisis. In the midst of this, the Senate still refuses to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. It is an outrageous dereliction of duty.
On November 13, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA, S 2843) to enhance and build upon our nation’s response to sexual and domestic violence. Enacted in 1994, twenty-five years ago, VAWA was the first federal law responding to our nation’s crisis of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. S 2843 is based on extensive outreach to survivors, direct service providers, and other stakeholders and would make modest yet vital improvements including:
- maintaining protections for all survivors;
- making vital investments in prevention;
- improving access to housing for survivors;
- addressing urgent and particular needs of native survivors;
- realizing the health care system’s response to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking;
- protecting dating violence survivors from firearm homicide; and
- increasing survivors’ access to safe housing and economic stability.
On November 20, Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) introduced her version of VAWA Reauthorization, a harmful measure that would roll back existing LGBTQ nondiscrimination provisions and undermine key protections for Native survivors. The House of Representatives passed HR 1585, a substantially similar bill to S 2843, on April 4. VAWA expired on September 30, 2018.