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AG Nessel Urges Senate to Reauthorize Violence Against Women Act

LANSING — As isolation and uncertainty during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic increase the risk to domestic violence victims, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and 23 other attorneys general today urged the U.S. Senate to act immediately and reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that expired more than a year ago.   

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. 

“As COVID-19 continues to hurt families across this nation, we cannot forget about the women who are facing a different but equally dangerous evil,” said Nessel.  “Increased isolation and uncertainty is a dangerous recipe in homes stricken by domestic violence and it is incumbent on the U.S. Senate to reauthorize the protections that are so terribly necessary now and after this pandemic ends.”  

The VAWA, 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 to women in need.  

The act has been reauthorized several times, most recently in 2013. Each time Congress reauthorized the VAWA, it expanded the protections under the law with bipartisan support. In addition to critical funding for domestic and intimate partner violence, VAWA funds have been a significant support for women and child victims of human trafficking. 

In their letter, the attorneys general note 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, which directly impacts victims of domestic violence. 

“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 states. 

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. 

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; and  
  • 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 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.” 

Nessel joins the attorneys general from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin and Washington in sending this letter. 

A copy of the letter is available here.