Attorney General Josh Stein on Monday urged the U.S. Senate to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which expired more than a year ago.
In a letter to the Senate, Stein and a coalition of 24 attorneys general note that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates isolation, uncertainty, and economic instability, increasing the risk to domestic violence victims and making reauthorizing the act even more urgent.
“As we shelter in place to minimize the spread of COVID-19, we can’t forget that victims of domestic violence are less safe at home,” Stein stated in a news release. “We must do everything in our power to protect women and families from this heinous violence now and always. I urge the Senate to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.”
The Violence Against Women Act, originally passed in 1994, created an Office on Violence Against Women within the Department of Justice, and provides billions of dollars for the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women, as well as financial support to women in need.
Each time Congress reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, most recently in 2013, it expanded the protections under the law with bipartisan support. In 2018, Stein called on Congress to reauthorize the act.
In April of 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill with bipartisan support reauthorizing the act. But after more than a year, the Senate has yet to take up consideration of the bill, nor has it taken up a companion bill sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
The House bill 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.
» Closing the “boyfriend loophole,” which allows certain abusive dating partners to continue possessing firearms under federal law.
“Reauthorization of (the Violence Against Women Act) will not end the scourge of gender based violence, but it is an important step toward more fully addressing the tragic epidemic,” the letter states. “The importance of urgent action is underscored by the particular challenges faced by victims and survivors during the COVID-19 outbreak. We urge you to move quickly to adopt the House-passed bill or the Senate companion sponsored by Senator Feinstein. Women in our states are counting on it.”
Domestic violence is also 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.
Stein is joined in sending this letter by the Attorneys General of Washington, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Washington, D.C.
A copy of the letter is available at ncdoj.gov.
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