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A Call to Action to End Violence for the New Administration

January 19, 2021

This post is written by Deborah J. Vagins, NNEDV President and CEO, and originally appeared in Ms. Magazine

The Biden-Harris administration must implement a coordinated, government-wide and intentional strategy to end gender-based violence at the federal level.

As 2020 drew to a close, many of us were excited and hopeful that a new year would mean a new source of hope: a change in the way our nation responds to the multiple, intersecting and ongoing crises our country faces.

As this new year dawned with horrific acts of racist, misogynistic and anti-Semitic violence in our nation’s capital and across the country, many of us felt profoundly disheartened and hopeless. However, oppression, violence and genocide have been at the heart of this country since its inception, and in many ways the events of January 6 were no surprise—save for the fact that they happened in televised, horrific slow motion.

As an organization committed to ending violence, we at the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) are particularly mindful of the way that violence is often disproportionately deployed to harm and control already-marginalized communities. We cannot end domestic violence without also ending the intersecting injustices of white supremacy and state-sanctioned violence.

Creating a world without violence takes hard work, humility and a commitment to listening to and uplifting those most pushed to the margins by violence. NNEDV strives to be a part of that vision. We must also examine our own work and the way our internal practices have perpetuated racism. Our hope is consistently renewed by the advocates and survivors who show up every day to make their communities, and in turn the world, a safer place.

NNEDV was founded to represent the needs and national priorities of the 56 state and territorial domestic violence coalitions. We work closely with these coalitions to develop administrative and legislative priorities that address the immediate needs of survivors while also advocating for increased investments in longer-term prevention strategies in order to build a future of greater safety and justice.

As we prepare to welcome the Biden-Harris administration, which has a strong history of working to address gender-based violence, we are hopeful that they will continue to advocate for policies that decrease violence and center the most marginalized survivors.

To build on the lessons learned since the passage of the Violence Against Women Act in 1994, we must invest in strategies that advance access to safety, justice and economic stability for survivors of domestic violence while reducing reliance on systems that are not helping all survivors.

Yet, we know that VAWA has not ended domestic violence, and the criminal justice provisions have not led to safety for all survivors, especially for survivors of color. Over the next four years, we must build upon the achievements of VAWA, while creating additional successes by moving in new directions, rooted in the work of communities across the nation.

As the Biden-Harris administration begins this new era, we urge them to take a holistic approach. Each federal agency has a role to play in addressing gender-based violence and should prioritize addressing domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault and dating violence within their work.

The White House must lead the charge in developing a coordinated, government-wide strategic plan to address the urgent needs of survivors and a long-term plan to prevent and end domestic and sexual violence. This includes a multi-pronged, intersectional approach that will:

  • Center the needs of historically marginalized survivors by supporting funding and policies that reduce barriers to safety and justice for survivors who face past or ongoing oppression and systemic discrimination. It will be necessary to reform systems that disproportionately harm communities of color, including the criminal and child welfare systems.
  • Prepare and respond to survivors’ needs amid the COVID-19 pandemic and natural disasters by calling upon the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Treasury Department, and Congress to specifically address domestic and sexual violence during crises. It will be necessary to focus on survivors’ safety since we know that home is not a safe place for everyone and survivors have unique needs related to confidentiality, housing, and relocation.
  • Scale up prevention strategies to reach every community by providing resources to state, territorial and tribal coalitions, and culturally specific organizations. We have evidence-based strategies to help survivors of domestic and sexual violence meet urgent needs, in addition to prevention. However, the promise of these strategies has yet to be fully realized because federal agencies lack coordination and sufficient resources to make nationwide improvements.
  • Funding core services has been and should continue to be a central way the administration can ensure survivors have access to safety and justice and more is needed. The demand for domestic violence and sexual assault services far outstrips available resources, particularly for immediate and ongoing shelter, economic support, and culturally specific services. For the many survivors who do not want to call police or get restraining orders, access to a wide array of community-based assistance is particularly crucial.
  • Address survivors’ housing needs by strengthening protections and survivor-specific resources—particularly rental assistance and flexible financial support.  Domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness among women and families; therefore, the housing crisis and its solutions must explicitly include survivors’ needs.
  • Promote financial security and economic justice policies for survivors by increasing access to federal benefits and living wage jobs and providing survivor-specific workplace protections. These help survivors achieve greater economic security and benefit all communities across our nation.  The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the severe economic disparities for women and workers of color. Survivors need job security, employment protections, access to non-traditional and high paying jobs, and barrier-free access to cash, utility, and food assistance.

NNEDV works on these and many other issues intersecting with domestic violence. Our signature projects aim to address the far-reaching impacts of violence and their interconnected solutions. We hope that this administration will see the need for a coordinated, government-wide and intentional strategy to end gender-based violence at the federal level.

Violence in the streets or at the Capitol cannot be separated from violence in our homes, but violence in any form is not a foregone conclusion. We urge the new administration to act now. We stand ready to work with them to create a world where violence no longer exists.