Spike in domestic violence during pandemic spurs call to take Violence Against Women Act 'off the shelf'
Citing a recent New York State report that details a very troubling 33-percent rise in domestic violence cases across New York amid COVID-19, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer demanded the United States Senate take up the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which passed the House with bipartisan support all the way back in April of 2019.
Schumer demanded Leader Mitch McConnell take VAWA "off the shelf" and rightfully pass it in the Senate. Specifically, the Senator revealed, in Upstate New York, domestic violence shelter occupancy rates rose to 78 percent in April 2020, up from 59 percent in April 2019, a 19-percent increase.
Schumer said that New York is not alone in worrisome statistics, either. Other states, like Texas and Illinois, according to The New York Times, have seen similar domestic violence surges and capital resources for many programs could dry up fast.
“The data from New York’s report mirrors similar statistics across other parts of the country that are also seeing a rise in domestic violence amid the coronavirus pandemic," Senator Schumer said. "It’s up to all of us to heed the warning in these numbers and not allow a pandemic to fuel an epidemic of domestic violence so many have devoted their lives to preventing.
"Since I first helped write the Violence Against Women’s Act in 1994, countless individuals have been saved. Whether the funds provided local shelters, counseling or other critical efforts, the law has given so many a second chance and we cannot rest until the Senate acts, the law is fully reauthorized and the help New York and other states need on the way.”
According to New York’s domestic violence task force, “…in the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, data reported by law enforcement and domestic violence service providers pointed to an increase in domestic violence, with the New York State Domestic & Sexual Violence Hotline recording a 33 percent increase in calls for April 2020 compared to April 2019, and shelter occupancy rates upstate rising to 78 percent in April 2020, versus 59 percent in April 2019.
Schumer reiterated that that the coronavirus pandemic cannot be allowed to fuel an epidemic of domestic violence that so many have joined together to prevent as he made the case for new action. He said that passing the full VAWA package will unlock the full federal funding New York needs to achieve its immediate needs to help stop the violence.
Schumer detailed New York’s immediate needs given the 33-percent spike in reported violence:
1) Local programming for survivors’ safety, including the use of new technology and mobile platforms
2) Housing stability and navigation services
According to the report, “funding should be flexible to meet a range of needs, including housing costs, safety measures and allocations for essential needs that might present barriers to safety and housing stability, such as debt or car repair expenses. Support should have more flexible parameters, should meet survivors’ needs as quickly as possible, and should be available until survivors feel safe.
"Program outcomes should be based on survivors’ safety and housing stability over the longterm. Further, the state should continue its commitment to partnering with the philanthropic and advocacy community, collaborating to leverage support, fill in the gaps where existing funds fall short and foster further innovation.”
“Right now, because of the uncertainty around the Violence Against Women’s Act’s future reauthorization we have states preparing to turn over the couch cushions for this life-saving funding, and that cannot sustain,”Schumer added. “Philanthropy is certainly one way to 'fill in the gaps' but existing federal funding cannot be allowed to simply ‘fall short.' That’s why we need the Senate to act here, because government has a job to do and lives to save.”
Schumer cited the Finger Lakes Region to show how just one area of the state has benefited from VAWA.
Within the last five years, organizations across Rochester and the Finger Lakes received more than $8.8 million in federal funding through the Violence Against Women Act.
Specifically, $650,000 was awarded to aid law enforcement in combatting domestic violence; $299,708 was awarded to combat campus sexual assault; $425,000 was awarded to combat domestic violence among the disabled; $794,667 was awarded to provide housing for victims of domestic violence; $750,000 was awarded to improve criminal justice response (ICJR); $3,266,665 was awarded to provide legal assistance to victims (LAV); $1,222,000 was awarded to provide assistance to underserved populations; $425,000 was awarded to assist those in rural communities; and $1,000,000 was awarded to support families who have been affected by domestic violence.
Willow Domestic Violence Center in Rochester voiced their support for Senator Schumer’s efforts.
Meaghan de Chateauvieux, president & CEO of Willow Domestic Violence Center in Rochester said, “When a survivor steps forward in our community seeking safety from abuse, VAWA is what makes it possible for our local agencies to work together in a coordinated and comprehensive way to keep families safe.
"Willow serves over 7,000 survivors each year and relies on our VAWA-funded community partnerships. We appreciate Senator Schumer’s push because VAWA is the cornerstone of our local coordinated response to domestic violence and has changed the landscape for victims who once suffered in silence.”
The original 1994 VAWA bill, which was authored by Schumer when he was a member of the House, has been reauthorized three times—in 2000, 2005 and 2013— with unanimous Senate approval the first two times. Since its enactment, the bill has reduced domestic violence by more than 50 percent. Additionally, the legislation, over the course of its history, has provided more than $7 billion in federal funding towards reducing these types of violence.
Beyond reauthorizing all of the current grant programs under the original VAWA and those established by previous reauthorizations, the House-passed VAWA reauthorization also includes a number of new provisions to aid and support victims of domestic and sexual violence. Some of the most essential include:
- Establishing a survey among District and State Attorney Offices that receive funding from VAWA grant programs to track the rates of rape cases.
- Increasing funding for the Services, Training Officers and Prosecutors (STOP) grant program, which promotes a coordinated, multidisciplinary approach to enhancing advocacy and improving the criminal justice system’s response to violent crimes against women. The program encourages the development and improvement of effective law enforcement and prosecution strategies to address violent crimes against women and the development and improvement of advocacy and services in cases involving violent crimes against women.
- Enhancing the Grants to Reduce Violent Crimes Against Women on Campus Program by supporting educational institutions seeking to develop and distribute educational materials to students related to prevention.
- Boosting housing protections for survivors of domestic and sexual violence. Additionally, a provision in the reauthorization bill ensures that in the event of separation from a spouse, survivors retain access to housing. The bill also increases opportunities under transitional housing grant programs for organizations that operate in underserved and low-income communities.
- Promoting the economic security and stability of victims of domestic and sexual violence. One of the ways the VAWA reauthorization bill would do this would be by authorizing funding for a Government Accountability Office study on the economic implications of domestic violence and the best possible solution to these implications for victims.