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NNEDV President and CEO Remarks at Informing the Development of the US GBV National Action Plan: A Civil Society Forum

December 10, 2021

Remarks of Deborah J. Vagins (as prepared for delivery) for Informing the Development of the US GBV National Action Plan: A Civil Society Forum

Panel 1: Leadership, Coordination, Research, and Information Management
Friday, December 10, 2021 (10am-12pm ET)

Good morning, my name is Deborah J. Vagins, President and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence. Thank you to the White House and federal agency partners for being here today to hear our recommendations as you embark on developing development of the first-ever National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence (NAP GBV). I am pleased to speak on the importance of Agency coordination and engagement and collaboration with civil society stakeholders.

NNEDV represents the 56 state and U.S. territorial coalitions to end domestic violence, who in turn represent nearly 2,000 local domestic violence programs nationwide, and the millions of survivors they serve every day. Domestic violence coalitions play a critical role in the enactment and implementation of both policy change and social change at the state and federal levels.

In September 2021, NNEDV held a listening session for our member coalitions on the development of the National Action Plan. That discussion reflected many of the recommendations NNEDV made to the then incoming Biden-Harris administration in November 2020. Namely, that the National Action Plan must emphasize a whole-of-government, coordinated approach, including the meaningful participation of civil society throughout the process. Currently, federal responses to GBV are siloed between different agencies and there are gaps in coordination and communication. The NAP should include goals to improve agency-wide responses to GBV, inter- and intra-agency coordination, and establish high-level GBV positions and programs within key agencies.

How we address and respond to GBV implicates almost every facet of a person’s life—health, housing, employment, and how we interface with government systems. Systemic discrimination only exacerbates the needs and the importance of an intersectional and coordinated approach. That is why it is so critical that each federal agency has a role to play in addressing gender-based violence and should prioritize addressing domestic violence and sexual assault within their work.

Across the government, we must invest in strategies that advance access to safety, justice, and economic stability for survivors while reducing reliance on systems that are not helping all survivors. We also must scale up prevention strategies to reach every community, address survivors’ housing and economic needs, and most importantly center the needs of historically marginalized survivors. 

To that end, below are some key recommendations.

  • First, with respect to staffing:
    • We applaud the Administration for establishing the White House Gender Policy Council with a special advisor on gender-based violence, and call for the National Action Plan to include this important Council and this position for future administrations in order to help shape policy and practice across the federal government.
    • We commend the Administration for creating the Director of Gender-Based Violence and Equity at HUD and recommend additional high-level staff positions to provide more consistent attention to the housing issues facing survivors and their families.
    • We recommend creating a high-level position at HHS to coordinate across the agency to ensure best-practice prevention strategies are adopted and promulgated across HHS and other federal agencies.
    • We recommend creating Deputy Directors on Culturally Specific Communities within OVW and the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) in order to address equity and inclusion for Communities of Color.
  • Second, with respect to programmatic agency work, we recommend:
    • Requiring each federal agency to include in their strategic plans evidence-based benchmarks that prevent domestic and sexual violence and improve outcomes for survivors.
    • Elevating the Family Violence Prevention and Services Office to a higher level within HHS to improve agency-wide responses to gender-based violence.
    • Creating an interagency housing program for survivors that weaves together funding across agencies to allow the full array of safe and confidential housing options, including emergency, transitional, rapid, and other interventions.
    • Increasing collaboration between HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and DOJ’s Civil Rights Division to better enforce housing protections for survivors of gender-based violence and sexual harassment.
    • Integrating responses to domestic and sexual violence into disaster relief and recovery efforts by ensuring that FEMA and other agencies work together closely to support survivors, requiring training for first responders on domestic and sexual violence.
    • Allowing victim service agencies to use federal funds to create and administer no barrier/low barrier, accessible, and flexible emergency relief funds for survivors.
  • Third with respect to collaboration with and centering a diverse range of stakeholders, we recommend:
    • That all strategies must be informed by the needs of Communities of Color and developed in partnership with culturally specific organizations, and led by the guidance of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color leaders in the domestic violence and sexual assault fields.
    • Convening agency leaders and outside experts to discuss and address obstacles within other human services and other government systems, such as the child welfare, TANF, public housing, and criminal legal systems.
    • Including direct and meaningful participation of domestic and sexual violence coalitions, advocates, survivors, and national and local organizations working on GBV issues, as well as sovereign Tribal governments and tribal coalitions, throughout the process of the development, implementation, and monitoring of this incredibly important National Action Plan.

 Thank you for this opportunity to present our recommendations.

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