As millions of people are shuttered inside due to COVID-19, the need to increase protection for domestic violence survivors has risen.
On May 4, Attorney General Letitia James and a coalition of 23 additional attorneys general from around the country urged the U.S. Senate to take action to protect women by reauthorizing the Violence against Women Act, which expired more than a year ago.
In a letter to Senate leadership, they point out that as isolation and uncertainty during the coronavirus crisis has increased, so too have the risks to women who have fallen victim to domestic violence, requiring immediate action from the Senate.
“As the coronavirus crisis continues to rage across New York and the rest of the nation, millions of women may be stuck isolating with abusive partners, which is why the Senate must take action now to protect every one of these women,” James said. “More than 25 years have passed since the Violence against Women Act was signed into law, but Congress’s failure to reauthorize the act for over a year has endangered women across the country and still continues to do so.”
The Violence Against Women Act was originally signed into law in 1994, creating an Office on Violence Against Women within the U.S. Department of Justice and providing billions of dollars for investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women, as well as financial support to women in need. The act has been reauthorized several times, most recently in 2013.
But when it expired in September 2018, Congress failed to pass another reauthorization. While the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill in April 2019 reauthorizing the act, the Senate failed to do so.
“Violence against women has been a public health crisis for generations, and the COVID-19 outbreak illustrates the urgent need to further strengthen protections for women under federal law,” the coalition of attorneys general wrote in the letter.
Domestic violence also poses a threat to law enforcement, the letter notes. According to a 2017 report by the U.S. Department of Justice, 29 percent of the 133 line-of-duty deaths responding to calls for service were related to domestic disputes.
The House bill currently waiting for passage by the Senate expands the protections of the Violence against Women Act by:
- strengthening protections for Native women by expanding jurisdiction of tribal courts over non-Native men who abuse Native women,
- codifying important protections for LGBTQ+ individuals, and
- closing the “boyfriend loophole,” so that certain abusive dating partners cannot continue to possess firearms under federal law.