By: Rosie Hidalgo, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor on Gender-Based Violence, Gender Policy Council
When President Biden declared October 2021 as Domestic Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, he recognized “the important roles of the public and private sectors, non-profit organizations, communities, and individuals in helping to prevent and address domestic violence and create a culture that refuses to tolerate abuse.” Advancing efforts to address and prevent domestic violence has been a cornerstone of President Biden’s career as a public servant, including his authorship of the original Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and his leadership in advancing subsequent reauthorizations of VAWA to continue expanding access to safety and services for all survivors. The Biden-Harris Administration has centered efforts to end gender-based violence as one of ten key strategic priorities to advance gender equity and equality through a whole of government approach, both domestically and globally, through the National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality, which was released earlier this month. The Strategy also highlights the importance of taking an intersectional approach that recognizes overlapping experiences on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, and other factors.
While the Administration is advancing this blueprint for a holistic approach, it is also taking steps to address the immediate needs of survivors and service providers. The COVID-19 pandemic has fueled a health crisis and an economic crisis, which has exacerbated a “shadow pandemic” of gender-based violence in the United States and around the world. Through the American Rescue Plan (ARP) legislation, the Biden-Harris Administration has invested nearly $1 billion to provide supplemental funding for domestic violence and sexual assault service providers through the Family Violence Prevention and Services division (FVPS) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). This also includes an historic investment to support community-based organizations that provide culturally-specific support for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.
In recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, and in conjunction with the release of the additional ARP funds, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, Acting Assistant Secretary for the Administration for Children and Families JooYeun Chang, FVPS Director Shawndell Dawson, and I visited a local domestic violence service provider in Washington, DC. It was an opportunity to hear from advocates about their efforts to support survivors during the pandemic and provide holistic services that are trauma-informed. And it was an important opportunity to recognize and honor the dedication and life-saving work of advocates, both here and throughout the nation.
As we move forward to advance a more comprehensive and holistic strategy to address and prevent gender-based violence, we have embarked on developing our nation’s first-ever National Action Plan on Ending Gender-Based Violence. This is a mandate in the Executive Order that created the White House Gender Policy Council and is a model that has been adopted by countries around the world. This process is underway with the input of all federal agencies, as well as extensive consultation with stakeholders. To date, the Gender Policy Council has held listening sessions with over 2000 participants — including a meeting with youth advocates who offered targeted recommendations to advance the Administration’s work to address online harassment and abuse. Additionally, the Executive Order calls for updating the U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally. As we work to advance these efforts on both the domestic and international level, we do so with the aim of better integrating these commitments into a robust blueprint for action.
Additionally, we have continued advancing efforts to renew and strengthen existing legislation to support survivors. This included legislation to strengthen the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), which President Biden signed into law in July. Among other things, it requires funds collected by the Federal Government under deferred and non-prosecution agreements to be deposited into the Crime Victims Fund, which has already resulted in more than $200 million in additional deposits as of September. Furthermore, the Administration is supporting efforts to renew and strengthen VAWA, which passed the House with bipartisan support in March. Earlier this month, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on VAWA reauthorization in efforts to advance bipartisan legislation. The Administration also strongly supports the reauthorization of the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act, which recently passed the House with bipartisan support. This legislation will expand investments in domestic violence prevention efforts and strengthen existing services, while also expanding access to resources and services to Tribes and tribal coalitions, culturally-specific programs, and other underserved communities.
As President Biden said in his Proclamation marking National Domestic Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, let us “honor the tremendous dedication of advocates and service providers, honor the courage and resilience of survivors, and recommit ourselves to standing with them for safety, dignity, and justice. There is still much work to do, and it will take all of us to do it. We must rededicate ourselves to creating a society where domestic violence is not tolerated, where survivors are supported, and where all people have an opportunity to thrive without fear of violence or abuse.”