RICHMOND (May 4, 2020) — Attorney General Mark R. Herring has joined a coalition of 24 attorneys general in urging the U.S. Senate to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which the Senate allowed to expire more than a year ago. Attorney General Herring and his colleagues argue that isolation and uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic exponentially increases the risk to domestic violence victims and the Senate must act immediately. In April 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 Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-California. “It is astonishing that the Violence Against Women Act has not been reauthorized by the Senate especially now as we now find ourselves in unprecedented times where unsafe home situations may be exacerbated because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Attorney General Herring. “Because of the Senate’s inaction, critical funding for efforts to combat domestic abuse, sexual abuse, and stalking as well as resources for survivors who are trying to rebuild their lives are not available to those who need it most. It is time for the Senate to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act and show survivors that they are supported.” 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 investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women, as well as financial support for women in need. The act has been reauthorized several times, most recently in 2013. Each time Congress reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, it expanded the protections under the law with bipartisan support. Attorney General Herring and his colleagues note in their letter that the COVID-19 pandemic makes reauthorizing the act even more urgent, as measures to contain the virus can exacerbate isolation, uncertainty, and economic instability, directly impacting victims of domestic violence. As the letter states: “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 letter also notes the threat domestic violence is to law enforcement. 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 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 coalition says in their letter. “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.” Previously, in September 2018, Attorney General Herring and a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general sent a letter to Congress urging them to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. Joining Attorney General Herring in sending today’s letter are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C.