Press Releases

Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence Holds Virtual Roundtable on Addressing Racial Disparities in Access to Care for Survivors

Washington, DC - 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 on racial disparities in access to care and justice for survivors of sexual violence. Over 18% of all African American women report being abused in their lifetime, and the vast majority of survivors are unlikely to report at all. In addition, for every 15 Black women who are raped, only one reports her assault. The Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence regularly holds roundtable discussions - in October, the Task Force co-chairs held a roundtable on addressing human trafficking, and in June hosted a discussion on addressing sexual and domestic violence during the pandemic. 

The co-chairs and Task Force members heard from Black survivors and discussed reforms and changes that need to be made to address the disparities. They talked about the need to ensure law enforcement get training in trauma-informed approaches when working with survivors, as well as the importance of addressing the backlog of sexual assault kits around the country.  

The Task Force was joined by:

  • Lavinia Masters, Survivor and Advocate
  • Gail Gardner, Survivor, Advocate, Writer and Pastoral Counselor
  • Melanie Thompson, Instructor for the People’s Forum and Survivor

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated racial disparities in access to care and support for survivors of sexual violence, leaving survivors of color more vulnerable than ever,” said Rep. Kuster. “In working towards this Task Force’s mission to eradicate sexual violence, we need to address the additional barriers facing survivors of color. That means making sure federal resources through the Violence Against Women Act, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, and other funding streams are fairly distributed. We also must ensure survivors of human trafficking are helped, not punished, and recognize that unaddressed trauma, especially in children, can directly contribute to behavior that results in run-ins with the criminal justice system.”

Kuster continued, “As Congress will continue to tackle issues surrounding police reform, it is imperative that we recognize that sexual violence will persist wherever survivors don’t feel safe reaching out to law enforcement, or where they do reach out but are dismissed or ignored. I’m grateful to hear from the amazing survivors and advocates on today’s panel, who shared their stories and their insights on this critical issue. I look forward to discussing what I heard with my colleagues as we continue our efforts to combat sexual violence and ensure all survivors have access to the care and support they need.” 

“I thank my fellow co-chairs for hosting this important discussion today and our panelists for entrusting us with their experiences so that we may learn from them,” said Congressman Joyce. “As a former prosecutor, I know how difficult it is for survivors to share their stories. The fact of the matter is there should be no disparities in our nation’s response to sexual violence or harassment. More must be done to improve upon the medical care of all survivors, including taking steps to better train and equip those who interact with survivors on their journey to justice – from healthcare staff and social workers to law enforcement and court officials. We founded this task force to raise awareness about the harsh realities of sexual violence, support the victims of these heinous crimes and crack down on those who commit them. Today’s important discussion contributed to that mission and I look forward to continuing our bipartisan work on this issue in the future.” 

“I was glad to join my colleagues on the Task Force to End Sexual Violence as well as our panelists to discuss disparities in our nation’s response to sexual violence,” said Rep. Katko. “As we have seen during the pandemic, minority populations are disproportionately impacted by public health crises. These same trends extend to many other facets of our society, including our response to sexual assault and domestic violence. I hope today’s discussion will serve as a starting point for future bipartisan work in Congress to improve care and support for survivors of color.”

“This purpose filled journey led me to vow that no other girl would suffer at the hands of a rapist and not have justice, answers, the opportunity for healing and to be empowered… not another one, but especially my little Black girls,” said Lavinia Masters, Survivor and Advocate. 

Gail Gardner, Survivor and Advocate, said, “I cannot help but think, what would have been different, if I had been a white woman from a wealthy neighborhood? How many women suffered because we were not important enough in the eyes of law enforcement?”