Attorney General James Urges U.S. Senate to Reauthorize Violence Against Women Act

COVID-19 Pandemic Has Increased Need to Safeguard Domestic Violence Survivors

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James and a coalition of 23 additional attorneys general from around the country today urged the U.S. Senate to take action to protect women nationwide by reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, which expired more than a year ago. In a letter to Senate leadership, Attorney General James and the coalition point out that as isolation and uncertainty during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) public health 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,” said Attorney General James. “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 Senate must act to protect these women and send a message to their abusers that violence against women will never be tolerated.”

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. Each time Congress reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, it expanded the protections under the law with bipartisan support.

But when the most recent reauthorization expired in September 2018, Congress failed to pass another reauthorization. While the U.S. House of Representatives, more than one year ago — in April of 2019 — passed a bill with bipartisan support reauthorizing the act, the Senate failed to do so and still has refused to take up consideration of the bill under Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s leadership. Majority Leader McConnell has also failed to take up a companion bill sponsored by U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein.

In their letter today, Attorney General James and the coalition note that the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified urgency for reauthorization of the act, as measures to contain the virus can exacerbate isolation, uncertainty, and economic instability — directly increasing the risk of domestic violence and the impact on survivors. “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 write 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.

The attorneys general continue in their letter, “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 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.”

Joining Attorney General James in sending today’s letter to the U.S. Senate are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia.