Senators warn that instances of domestic violence and sexual assault are likely to increase as a result of stay-at-home orders—and request that any future legislation to address the ongoing coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) provides funding to support victims and survivors, including through programs authorized by the Violence Against Women Act
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) joined a bipartisan group of 39 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 Blumenthal and Murphy, the letter was signed by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Bob Casey (D-PA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-NJ), Chris Coons (D-DE), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NM), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Steve Daines (R-MT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Angus King (I-ME), Ed Markey (D-MA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Tina Smith (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jon Tester (D-MT), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Tom Udall (D-NM), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Mark Warner (D-VA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).
“Our message to victims and survivors of domestic violence during this unique time where we are all shut-in is very clear; domestic violence advocacy and support is up and running and here to help 24/7. Through remote advocacy, access to safety options exist in many forms with advocates who can assist with a safety plan, housing, a restraining order application, or basic needs, for example. Advocates are exceedingly busy responding to increasing challenges and added resources to support this important work are sorely needed,” said Karen Jarmoc, Chief Executive Officer of the Connecticut Coalition to End Domestic Violence.
Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CCADV) and their 18 member organizations want to remind everyone that help is available 24/7 throughout COVID-19. CCADV offers the following data available from various stakeholders within Connecticut's domestic violence response system:
CT Safe Connect/Statewide Hotline
Contact to Safe Connect, Connecticut's centralized domestic violence resource hub, has been consistent. There were 1,060 contacts in January, 1,284 contacts in February, and 1,314 contacts in March. 7% of individuals who contacted Safe Connect over the past two weeks expressed concerns related specifically to COVID-19. The majority of victims and survivors seeking assistance through Safe Connect do so via phone call as opposed to chat or email (texting is temporarily unavailable during this remote work period).
Member Organizations/Local Services
CCADV's 18 domestic violence organizations have reported viewing an increased need, all related to COVID-19, in the following areas:
COVID-19 issues that are driving increased needs include:
This has resulted in CCADV's member organizations having to provide increased services in areas such as:
Domestic Violence Rapid Rehousing
30 families fleeing domestic violence have been housed or begun the housing process through Connecticut's Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking Rapid Rehousing program since mid-March.
Some police departments are seeing a slight increase in calls, while others are seeing consistent numbers or a slight decrease. CCADV surveyed police departments across the state and, of those that responded (two-thirds of the state), there was an 8% increase in calls during the first quarter (January - March) of 2020 compared to the first quarter of 2019.
Requests for restraining orders appear to have declined during the final two weeks of March. Following an executive order issued by Governor Lamont last week, the family violence restraining order application can now be completed entirely online. This may impact this data moving forward given that some victims had expressed concerns about going to a courthouse during a public health crisis.
Full text of the letter can be found 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:
• 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.