WASHINGTON, D.C. – This week, Congressman Dave Joyce (OH-14), alongside Reps. Annie Kuster (NH-02), Gwen Moore (WI-04), Jackie Speier (CA-14), and John Katko (NY-24), led 33 colleagues in sending a bipartisan letter to President Biden urging his administration to create a Special Advisor on Sexual Violence position within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In their letter, the Members outline how creating such a position would elevate and coordinate HHS’s work to address sexual violence and result in greater expertise at HHS, more substantive policy, and translate to improved health outcomes for survivors of sexual violence.
A former prosecutor of 25 years, Joyce has made combatting sexual violence one of his top priorities in Congress. In 2017, he co-founded the U.S. House of Representatives’ Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence to help raise awareness about the harsh realities of sexual violence, support survivors, and bring perpetrators to justice. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, on average, there are 433,648 victims of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States. Tragically, in 2015 alone, the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services reported that there were 8,447 victims of sexual assault.
“Thank you to Congressman Joyce and his colleagues for asking the Department of Health and Human Services to appoint a Special Advisor on Sexual Violence,” said Sondra Miller, President and CEO of the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center. “It is time to elevate the voices of sexual assault survivors to the highest levels of government and ensure that survivors are informing policy decisions that have a profound impact on their ability to recover, heal and thrive. Rape and sexual abuse survivors in our local community will surely benefit when this expertise is brought to the decision-making table.”
“As the sexual assault coalition in Ohio and also working in collaboration with the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence we strongly support the creation of this position,” said Rosa Beltré, Executive Director of the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence. “Creating a senior leadership position at the Department of Health and Human Services to combat sexual violence will help streamline services as well as amplify the true needs, barriers and challenges of a sexual assault survivor. Survivors deserve someone in a hiring ranking position that understands their needs and is never afraid of putting that front and center. Representation does matter!”
The text of the letter is available here and below:
Dear President Biden,
As you take office, we urge you to create a position of Special Advisor on Sexual Violence at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Staffing this role with an experienced advocate for sexual assault survivors reporting directly to the Secretary would be an unprecedented and important step for coordinating and strengthening how the federal government responds to sexual violence and supports survivors. It would make clear to the nation that we must act upon a painful reality: that sexual violence in America has become a public health crisis.
In their December 17th letter to you, the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence (NAESV) and coalitions of advocates and stakeholders from across the country emphasized the value of creating such a position at HHS. The estimated lifetime cost of rape is $122,461 for each survivor, to say nothing of the lives scarred and sometimes destroyed. Conditions including depression, post-traumatic stress, joint conditions, cervical cancer, sexually transmitted diseases, and heart disease are all more likely when a person has experienced sexual violence. Additionally, sexual violence can contribute to substance use and other health crises HHS has worked to address as part of its mission. Establishing a special advisor focused on these concerns would provide a critical launching pad for HHS to develop new and innovative strategies to combat sexual violence from a health perspective.
There is so much more we can do to ensure survivors can safely and affordably access not only physical care, but also the mental health care they need in order to begin to heal from the trauma of sexual violence. With 21% of women and 3% of men reporting being the victim of rape or attempted rape, in many cases while still a minor, enhanced governmental action is urgent.
As the Family and Youth Bureau, the Office on Trafficking, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the Rape Prevention & Education Program (RPE) and other components of HHS continue to tackle sexual violence, we firmly believe that establishing a special advisor role within the Office of the Secretary to elevate and coordinate HHS’s work in this space, both interdepartmentally and through liaising with other government agencies and Congress, will result in greater expertise at HHS, more substantive policy, and translate to improved health outcomes for survivors of sexual violence.
We appreciate your attention to this matter as you prepare to begin a new administration, and we stand ready to work with you to develop this position and ensure it has the congressional support needed to be successful and effective.