BAINBRIDGE – This week, the Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence, led by Congressman Dave Joyce (OH-14), Annie Kuster (NH-02), John Katko (NY-24) and Congresswoman Jackie Speier (CA-14) held a virtual roundtable discussion to address sexual and domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. Gender-based violence and domestic violence are often exacerbated in times of crisis, and there is evidence of that occurring now with reports of a 60% increase in domestic violence emergency calls by women in April 2020.
“Over 100,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 and millions have lost their jobs, but the disease’s vicious impact spreads well beyond those tragic figures,”Joyce. “It has left countless women and children at a greater risk for sexual and domestic violence. What’s worse is that due to efforts to slow the spread of the virus, those at the greatest risk for such violence have lost access to the resources that are often vital to escaping abuse. Our virtual discussion highlighted the dire need for us in Congress to work together to provide victims of sexual and domestic violence with the resources they need to seek aid and safety during this pandemic. I thank each of the witnesses who testified for continuing their ever-important work during these times and look forward to continuing to support them in any way that I can.”
During COVID-19, for the first time ever, half of hotline calls made to the National Sexual Abuse Hotline were made by children under the age of 18. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), 79% of callers reported they were living with their abuser. Meanwhile, 61% of YWCA domestic and sexual violence hotlines reported an increase in calls due to the pandemic and 46% of YWCAs who provide domestic violence services reported an increase in demand. However, in some states, hotline calls have decreased – which has advocates worried that people do not have the means to report and seek help. Mental health practitioners have turned to telehealth services, but that might not be an option for victims who live with their abuser. Further, space in homeless and domestic violence shelters and transitional living facilities has decreased as unemployment rates have risen.
For this important discussion, the Task Force was joined by:
- Camille Cooper, Vice President of Public Policy at RAINN
- Alejandra Y. Castillo, Esq., CEO of YWCA USA
- Dr. Apryl Alexander, Associated Professor at the University of Denver and Director of the Denver Forensic Institute for Research, Service, and Training (Denver FIRST)
- Michelle DeLaune, Chief Operating Officer of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
Panelists and Task Force members discussed a variety of new challenges facing those working to combat sexual and domestic violence, such as financial and manpower strains on shelters, the need for emergency federal funding for survivor support programs and disturbing trends in reporting since the pandemic began. You can view the entire virtual roundtable here.