Press Releases

Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence Holds Virtual Roundtable Discussion to Address Violence During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Today, the Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence, led by Representatives Annie Kuster (D-NH), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Dave Joyce (R-OH) and John Katko (R-NY), held a virtual roundtable discussion about addressing 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 the World Health Organization (WHO) reporting a 60% increase in domestic violence emergency calls by women in April 2020. For every 3 months the COVID-19 lockdown continues, an additional 15 million cases of gender-based violence are expected around the world. The Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence regularly holds roundtable discussions – in February, the Task Force co-chairs held a roundtable on access to shelter and affordable housing for survivors.

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. Additionally, members discussed how to improve survivors’ access to reporting methods and how Congress can help facilitate this. Critical components to enabling survivors to quickly seek help after experiencing abuse and violence include expanding broadband internet connectivity and working with tech companies to ensure children have a way to report abuse as they work on their schooling from home.  

The Task Force was joined today by:

  • Camille Cooper, Vice President of Public Policy at RAINN
  • Alejandra Y. Castillo, Esq., CEO of YWCA USA
  • Dr. Apryl Alexander, Associate 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

“COVID-19 is requiring new approaches to combating abuse and sexual violence, and the timing could not be more urgent as countless lives hang in the balance,” said Rep. Kuster. “In New Hampshire and across the country, we hear stories of new challenges. Shelters are struggling to establish social distancing protocols and remain open, educators are trying to make mechanisms available for children to safely report abuse, and advocates are trying to find affordable housing for survivors at a time when so many are suddenly housing insecure. There is so much to understand about how to address and prevent violence, and I thank today’s panelists for joining us and sharing their knowledge and insights on these critical issues. I look forward to our continued work together to combat violence in our communities and ensure survivors have the resources and support they need.”

“Fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic is creating a magnified epidemic for abused men, women, and children. From being trapped with abusers due to stay-at-home orders and school closures, to the economic stress of losing work, to limited access to already over-stretched programs, it’s clear that Congress must do more to address these needs and do it with the same commitment mustered to help our business communities,” said Rep. Speier. “We need to increase funding for programs to assist domestic and sexual violence victims as well as the frontline workers and volunteers that are their lifelines. We also need technology companies to join us in this fight to provide national access to support services for victims, many of whom cannot call for help because they cannot find a safe space to speak.”

“In Central New York, like the rest of the country, there has been an increase in both domestic violence cases and calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline,” said Rep. Katko. “At the same time, shelters and crisis centers are facing limitations on available resources, as well as restrictions on their ability to provide critical services. Today’s roundtable was critically important to better understand the unique challenges and barriers faced by organizations on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic. I was proud to join the Bipartisan Task Force on Sexual Violence in hosting this event and thank our panelists for their work to support the millions of Americans who face domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.”

“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,” said Rep. Dave Joyce (OH-14). “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. Today’s 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 support and safety during this pandemic. I thank each of our witnesses who testified today for continuing their ever-important work during these times and look forward to continuing to support them in any way that I can.”

Today’s virtual roundtable can be viewed here.