Ensuring Domestic Violence Survivors’ Safety – Center for American Progress

Potential complications of COVID-19 for survivors

The long-term effects of COVID-19 on those who contract the virus are as yet undetermined, but it is evident that a percentage of DV survivors who contract and recover from the virus will likely be left with long-term disabilities or chronic illnesses. To date, there have been reports of respiratory and cardiac issues, paralysis, organ failure, and potential amputations.41 An increase in the number of people with disabilities—acquired as a result of COVID-19 and/or DV—could have a major impact on the social safety net due to a greater need for lifesaving health and economic supports. In terms of the impact on services and supports for those specifically experiencing DV, there must be efforts and increased funding to ensure both physical and programmatic accessibility for all survivors.

Recommendations

In order to address the rise in DV across the country, as well as the inadequate support structures discussed above that are meant to otherwise prevent or mitigate the impact of such violence, the Center for American Progress offers the following recommendations to help ensure survivors’ safety and economic security:

  • Both federal and state policymakers must ensure that critical DV programs, shelters, housing programs, and other social programs essential to survivor safety and economic security receive adequate funding, in response to both the coronavirus pandemic and beyond. Many leaders and advocates in the DV movement have called for increased funding, beyond that allocated in the CARES Act for Family Violence Prevention and Services Act programs, to provide an additional $100 million for sexual assault formula grants, $225 million for the STOP formula grant, and $40 million for transitional housing through U.S. Department of Justice-administered programs.42 The HEROES Act, which proposes additional funding and support for VAWA and Family Violence Prevention and Services Act grants and programs, is a vital step in the right direction. Congress should build upon this and further prioritize funding for these and other community-based programs that are best equipped to ensure survivor safety and economic security. At a minimum, increased funding will help these programs acquire personal protective equipment and other essential resources necessary to maintain both in-person and, where appropriate, digital operations, helping to ensure the longevity, accessibility, and effectiveness of these programs.
  • Federal policymakers must reauthorize and expand VAWA. VAWA helps fund DV programs, services, and shelters across the country and must be renewed to ensure that survivors can continue to access these lifesaving supports during and beyond the current pandemic. In addition, the bipartisan House-passed version, which has stalled in the Senate, includes several essential and much-needed improvements—including housing and economic protections—and a provision to close the so-called boyfriend loophole by making it illegal for a current or former dating partner convicted of abuse or stalking charges to own a gun and prohibiting abusers from purchasing or possessing guns while under temporary protective orders. Such a provision is essential to securing survivor safety overall, but is particularly important in light of spikes in gun purchases that have occurred since the start of the pandemic.
  • Policymakers must ensure access to paid sick and safe leave and paid family and medical leave, which are critical to the health and economic security of survivors. For survivors who need to take time off to seek help, medical attention, or counseling; move to a shelter; make safety plans; attend court proceedings; or pursue other necessities, access to paid safe leave can be a lifeline. Survivors, like all workers, must have access to comprehensive paid leave in order to address illness caused or exacerbated by the coronavirus, to remain in quarantine without fear of losing employment, or to care for a loved one. Because survivors need paid leave in order to access vital support services, it is crucial to expand upon the emergency paid sick leave provisions included in the coronavirus relief packages already signed into law to include paid time off to address sexual or domestic violence—sometimes referred to as paid safe days. Congress must pass the Providing Americans Insured Days of Leave (PAID Leave) Act of 2020 to make these expansions to the emergency paid leave provisions and to create permanent, national paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave laws, which include safe time for survivors.43
  • Congress must ensure access to reliable and affordable child care, which is critical to the economic security of survivors. To remain afloat and avoid a massive decline in child care supply, the child care industry needs a significant influx of federal funding. Congress must pass the Child Care Is Essential Act to address the immediate needs of child care providers and parents, including survivors with children.44 To ensure that survivors with children—and all parents—have widespread access to affordable child care beyond the current pandemic, Congress must also pass the Child Care for Working Families Act.45
  • Policymakers must ensure access to unemployment insurance for survivors who have lost their jobs due to pandemic-related layoffs or who have been forced to leave a job due to violence. Unemployment insurance offers a level of economic security to survivors that reduces their vulnerability to DV and helps them to leave an abusive relationship or household. In addition to expanding coverage by making safety concerns a qualifying reason, lawmakers must ensure that unemployment insurance benefits are available to all eligible workers, despite capacity issues in state programs. They must also expand benefits to include workers traditionally excluded from access, such as those who do not earn enough to qualify and gig workers in some states.
  • Congress must pass a legislative fix to VOCA to ensure sufficient funding to meet survivors’ needs. Survivors can rely on VOCA’s Crime Victims Fund in the aftermath of a crime for both direct and indirect financial support. This financial support can, for example, help to provide access to counseling services as well as cover the cost of medical bills.46 To ensure sufficient funding levels, it is essential that Congress pass a legislative fix to address declining funds to the Crime Victims Fund.47
  • Federal guidance must formally include shelters and other gender-based-violence-related programs among the entities and businesses deemed essential during the pandemic. Shelters offer a critical protection to women who seek to leave abusive environments but, because of unclear stay-at-home orders, are unsure of available resources or are otherwise having difficulty relocating during the pandemic. In addition to deeming shelters and other DV programs as essential, state officials must include explicit exemptions for survivors to relocate—for example, by explicitly classifying survivor relocation as essential travel—in official state stay-at-home orders.

Finally, survivor supports—and efforts to improve or expand them—must be fully accessible to all survivors. Given that survivors represent all gender identities and sexual orientations—and that LGBTQ people face disproportionately high rates of intimate partner violence48—it is critical to ensure that DV programs and support services are free of discrimination. Transgender survivors are regularly denied homeless shelter services based on their gender identity or transgender status.49 In June 2020, the Trump administration proposed a harmful U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department rule that would further undermine access to safe shelter for transgender women—a move that runs contrary to the Fair Housing Act.50 Importantly, while VAWA enshrines critical nondiscrimination protections and requires DV programs to be accessible, Congress must pass the Equality Act in order to help to ensure that LGTBQ people and women are protected from discrimination in non-VAWA-funded shelters and other federally funded programs.

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