- The Washington Times - Monday, April 13, 2020

Sen. Joni Ernst is pushing for more protections and federal aid for victims of domestic violence now that they face an increasing threat while ordered to stay at home during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Iowa Republican and a bipartisan group of 37 other senators petitioned Senate leadership Monday to put more money for sexual assault and domestic violence programs in the phase four coronavirus bill.

In a letter sent to leadership, the senators demanded at least $413 million for the programs.

At least $100 million would go toward the Sexual Assault Service Program and at least $225 million would fund STOP Violence Against Women Formula Grant Program grants that strengthen a state’s ability to respond to cases of domestic and sexual violence.

“It’s necessary that we are addressing this issue and it is one that people don’t normally talk about in polite society,” Ms. Ernst, a survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault, told The Washington Times. “We hear those silent pleas.”

Those who work on the front lines of the issue warn that instances of domestic abuse are likely to increase because of the crisis, which has shuddered the economy as government officials order the public to stay at home as much as possible.

The challenges include shelters struggling because of social distancing regulations, hotlines needing to transition to secure remote access, and victims trapped indoors with their abusers.

“We are starkly reminded that home is not a safe place for survivors and their children. So, an abuser may take advantage of an already stressful situation like this to gain more control. And the spread of COVID also creates more significant housing, childcare, financial and other barriers that are impacting survivors’ safety,” said Deborah Vagins, the president and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

“Similar to after disasters like hurricanes, we expect that there’ll be an increased incidence of domestic violence because shelters are full and some courts are not fully operational and resources are stretched thin,” she said.

The push for additional funds comes after the CARES Act included $45 million for shelters and coalitions directly working with victims and survivors, as well as $2 million for the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800) 799-7233.

• Gabriella Muñoz can be reached at gmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

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