By a Biometrica staffer
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and the Department of Justice (DOJ) is kicking that off by announcing more than $476 million in Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) grants, it said in a statement on Tuesday, Oct. 5.
The funding will go towards supporting projects that meaningfully address the needs of underserved and marginalized survivors, improve access to justice, enhance survivor safety, hold accountable those who have caused harm, and provide training and technical assistance to an array of professionals and systems working to address sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking in every state and territory, as well as in dozens of tribal communities.
“Domestic Violence Awareness Month is a sobering reminder of the harm domestic violence inflicts across our country, at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic means that for many survivors, abuse may be compounded by being isolated with an abuser, loss of income and stress over the virus itself,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco.
Grant funding aside, the department is combatting domestic and sexual violence in local and tribal communities on other fronts. In May, the DOJ outlined a comprehensive strategy to address violent crime, which asked U.S. Attorneys to evaluate the current drivers of violent crime in their regions, including domestic violence, and to develop strategies to address these drivers.
OVW’s announcement on the grant funding is a key part of that strategy. In addition, on Sept. 20, the department’s Office of Justice Programs announced more than $1.2 billion in Fiscal Year 2021 Victims of Crime Act funding.
While testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), Monaco urged Congress to not just reauthorize it but also strengthen it. VAWA was originally passed in 1994 and reauthorized by Congress in 2000, 2005, and 2013 — each time with bipartisan support. Although substantial progress has been made over the years, the need for VAWA’s programs and protections is as critical as ever, Monaco said in her testimony.
In his Domestic Violence Awareness Month proclamation, President Joseph R. Biden, the original author of the VAWA, called on all Americans to reaffirm their commitment to ending this violence and, in his fiscal year 2022 budget, proposed a historic $1 billion for grant programs administered by OVW.
“For too long, domestic violence was considered a “family issue” and was left for families to address in private. That is why, decades ago, I created and pushed for the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to be passed,” Biden’s proclamation said. “Domestic violence affects millions of people in the United States, causes significant harm to the physical and mental health of survivors and their families, undermines their economic stability and overall well-being, and is a stain on the conscience of our country. While significant progress has been made in reducing domestic violence and improving services and support for survivors, much work remains to be done to expand prevention efforts and provide greater access to safety and healing,” he added.
Both Biden’s proclamation and Monaco’s testimony also alluded to various statistics that show why VAWA matters, including:
- One in four women and one in 10 men have experienced sexual violence, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime
- Homicide is one of the leading causes of death in the United States for women under the age of 44, and nearly half are killed by a current or former male intimate partner
- In the early 1990s, i.e., around the time that VAWA was originally passed, 98% of rape victims never saw their attacker caught, tried, and imprisoned. That meant almost all perpetrators of rape walked free. Fewer than half of people arrested for rape were convicted, and almost half of convicted rapists could expect to serve a year or less in jail
“The tragic murder of Gabby Petito has been at the forefront of many people’s minds. I am struck by two critical lessons we should take away from the publicly-reported information, not just in this case but in the thousands of other cases that don’t receive public attention. First is the importance of the bystander’s 911 call, which prompted law enforcement to respond to reports of violence between Ms. Petito and her boyfriend. The second, as we learned from watching the public video footage of interviews conducted by those officers, is the vital importance of having trained law enforcement who understand the dynamics of domestic violence when responding to such incidents,” Monaco said in her testimony.
But Petito is not alone, she reminded, adding that there are more than 89,000 missing person cases in this country, and roughly 45% of them involve people of color, including too many missing and murdered indigenous persons. Gender-based violence is too often a precursor to these cases.