Violence against women soars in COVID-19 crisis, Congress debates law

WASHINGTON, D.C. —  An increase in domestic violence cases during the COVID-19 pandemic has renewed the push to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

President-elect Joe Biden has expressed commitment to renew the act that expired last year but he faces a tough challenge if Republicans keep control of the Senate after Georgia’s runoff elections next month. But an increase in domestic violence calls and arrests across the country may put pressure on Senate GOP to restart stalled reauthorization efforts. 

“These issues didn’t just start with COVID but COVID has made them even starker,” said Kiersten Stewart, director of public policy and advocacy for Futures Without Violence, a nonprofit organization focused on ending domestic and sexual violence that has worked with lawmakers on VAWA over the years. “We absolutely hope that it will nudge Congress to take it up with urgency in the new session.” 

U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said it is time for Republicans in the Senate to focus on the needs of women. 

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., joined at left by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., speaks about plans to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act which provides funding and grants for a variety of programs that tackle domestic abuse, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, March 7, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) ORG XMIT: DCSA120

“The pandemic has brought into stark relief inequalities and issues that we knew existed before, and that is certainly true with domestic violence,” she said.

Comprehensive data on the impact of COVID on domestic violence is not readily available as a large number of incidents may be going unreported, experts fear. However, limited data has shown an uptick in cases as families are stuck at home with their attackers. 

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