NEWARK, N.J. – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker (both D-N.J.) today joined a bipartisan group of 38 colleagues requesting that any future legislation to address COVID-19 includes support for victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. The senators express concern that service providers are reporting 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 many local law enforcement agencies are receiving an increased number of domestic violence-related calls.
“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,” the senators wrote. “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.”
In addition to Sens. Menendez and Booker, the letter was signed by Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-N.M.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Angus King (I-Maine), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
“Because the reduction of the spread of COVID-19 requires self-quarantining, the pandemic has left many survivors of sexual violence isolated in locations with the person(s) who caused or is causing them sexual harm. Already, the national sexual assault hotline has reported a demonstrable increase in the number of juvenile callers to their hotline during COVID-19’s shelter-in-place protections,” said Patricia Teffenhart, executive director of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NJCASA). “In addition, we know that community stressors increase the chance of earlier trauma resurfacing. In response, rape crisis centers throughout New Jersey, and the country, have restructured critically important services like hotline, counseling, and hospital accompaniment to ensure every survivor has access to the free and confidential services they need to support their personal journey to healing and wellness. As such, support for rape crisis centers in future stimulus packages is so important, for not only do we need to ensure the stability of our existing service infrastructure, but we know we will need to increase our capacity once the immediate impact of COVID-19 subsides.”
"Rape crisis centers provide the nation's frontline response to sexual assault. They are passionate about supporting survivors during this time of intense crisis. Over 600 local programs responded to our recent survey indicating they need emergency funding to address critical needs, transition to virtual services, and reach out to the most vulnerable," said Terri Poore, Policy Director at the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence.
"News reports from across the nation and across the globe have documented a significant increase in domestic violence incidences. Our member programs are telling us that they do not have the resources to serve all of the survivors seeking help," said Ruth M. Glenn, President and CEO of National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. "The measures the senators lay out in their letters will mean access to safety for the millions of Americans who experience intimate partner violence annually."
The letter is supported by the following groups: Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center; Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence; Break the Cycle; California Coalition Against Sexual Assault; Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network for Healthy Families and Communities; Futures Without Violence; Jewish Women International; Legal Momentum; National Alliance to End Sexual Violence; National Coalition Against Domestic Violence; National Council of Jewish Women; National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges; National Domestic Violence Hotline; National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center; National Network to End Domestic Violence; National Organization of Sisters of Color Ending Sexual Assault; National Resource Center on Domestic Violence; StrongHearts Native Helpline; Tahirih Justice Center; Ujima, Inc.: The National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community; YWCA USA.
The full letter is below and can be downloaded here.
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
Set-aside assistance for Tribes and Tribal Organizations
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.
April 22, 2021