Dear Fellow Marylanders,
During the COVID-19 pandemic, as many offices and schools shifted overnight to telework, Marylanders and others across the country were forced to stay at home for work, studies and nearly everything else. For many, home became a safe space or refuge from potential illness, or worse. For many others, being confined at home with an abusive partner or family member became a prolonged nightmare.
The lockdowns helped increase public safety by reducing opportunities for rampant transmission of COVID-19, but there were unintended consequences.
Before, during and after the pandemic, there are millions of Americans, Marylanders included, who live in silent fear. Reports from law enforcement and social service agencies say that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been physically abused by an intimate partner. The numbers are significant.
There are more than 10 million adult domestic violence victims each year. The Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence reports that in one day in 2019, 702 domestic violence victims received services. Domestic violence can cause injury, fear, illnesses, housing insecurity, missed school or work, and other devastating consequences. The effects of this epidemic stretch well beyond the home, impacting extended families, schools, the workplace, and the economy.
The pandemic brought with it economic uncertainty, heightened anxiety and it eliminated some of the personal space that risky relationships – all relationships – need to stay healthy. According to Marianna Yang, lecturer on law and clinical instructor at the Family and Domestic Violence Law Clinic at the Harvard Law School, “When people are working outside the home, interactions with their partner are limited to certain hours of the day, and the potential time for conflict is also limited. In a lockdown, not only do you take away those breathing spaces, but you also increase the dynamics where domestic violence can occur.”
In fact, incidents of domestic violence spiked about 8 percent nationwide once the public health lockdowns started in March 2020. Simultaneously, calls to domestic violence hotlines decreased because victims had limited or no safe opportunities to reach out for help.
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, an opportunity for our communities to stand up against this type of violence. This is an issue we must talk about publicly. Victims must know they are not alone and that there is help available. Perpetrators must know that there will be consequences for their actions.
Recognizing the needs of survivors, Congress recently renewed its commitment to preventing and responding to domestic violence in all its forms. Earlier this year, President Joe Biden signed into law the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Act (VAWA) of 2022, reauthorizing landmark legislation to address the severity of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. This was a measure he initially authored and championed as a senator in 1994. Since then, its protections and provisions were expanded in 2000, as well as 2005 and 2013.
The Violence Against Women Act has improved the availability of services, training, and education to address sexual and domestic violence and stalking, despite a regrettable decision from the United States Supreme Court, United States v. Morrison (2000), which struck down the individual civil rights remedy. This allowed victims of gender-motivated violence to bring a civil lawsuit separate and apart from any criminal proceedings.
The 2022 reauthorization of VAWA made important improvements, such as ensuring all survivors have access to justice and the support they need for healing and well-being. In addition, the Biden administration has taken significant steps to prevent and respond to domestic violence nationally and internationally, from reforming the military justice system to ending forced arbitration for sexual assault and harassment.
Another critical way that Congress has sought to address domestic violence is by providing funding to state and local entities that provide needed support to survivors, including medical treatment, counseling and legal services. Through the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) initially signed into law in 1984, federal resources are directed to crime victims and organizations that support them.
In 2020, VOCA funding enabled the important work of more than 120 Maryland victim service programs, some of which included domestic violence shelters. Last year, the Maryland Congressional Delegation worked to replenish the Crime Victim Fund, which had drastically declined during the Trump presidency. The passage of the VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act of 2021 supports services for approximately 120,000 victims of crime in Maryland every year, including domestic violence survivors.
This Domestic Awareness Month, and beyond, I hope we can come together to shine a bright light on this issue and move us closer to ending this violent scourge. Since Congress first recognized October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, legislation has been passed to hold perpetrators accountable, enforce protection orders and increase survivors’ support services. However, much work remains.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please know that you are not alone and there is help available. Victims of domestic violence can receive support through the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence. Additional Maryland domestic violence service programs can be found through the Maryland Department of Health Maternal and Child Health.
Thank you for your time and attention today. Please feel free to reply to this email or send me a message through my website about this or any other topic.