DVAM Briefing: Gender-Based Violence Policy in the 115th Congress

A holistic portrait of violence against women and girls

A look forward to what we can do together to effect change in the next Congress

Co-hosted with our Interfaith Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence



Guns and Domestic Violence

Miri Cypers, Director of Federal Affairs and Partnerships, Americans for Responsible Solutions

Impact of gun violence on women and how it intersects with DV: One issue that doesn’t get talked about is how gun violence intersects with DV. From research and data, we know that a gun is the most commonly-used weapon in domestic violence homicides. A gun in an abusive home raises the risk of homicide for women 5 times – or 500%. Annually 4.5% of women are coerced or bullied by a gun in their homes (study just came out this week). This is an area where we can build bipartisan support in Congress. 

In 1994, Congress first passed VAWA. If you are subject to a DV restraining order, you cannot own a gun: this was the first federal law on the issue of DV and guns. Research shows that restricting access to guns for people subject to restraining orders results in 19% fewer homicides. 

But a lot more work needs to be done. Now, we are focusing on the boyfriend loophole: current federal law only includes abusers who are or were married to the victim, lived with the victim, or have a child with the victim. More people are in dating relationships now, and the language of the law passed in the 1990s doesn’t reflect the current demographics of victims. This is the boyfriend loophole we need to close: protecting people who are in a non-marital relationship with an abuser.

The stalking loophole is another area of focus. Stalking is a crime where it’s clear the person intends to do more harm. In one study, 76% of female homicide victims were stalked by their killer in the year before their deaths. Stalking is a clear indicator of future violence, and we want to make sure that convicted stalkers cannot own guns.

We also want to extend federal background checks. In states that have expanded background checks, 46% fewer women are killed by guns. It nearly cuts the number in half.

For the road ahead, we are focused on the next Congress, building bipartisan support, and asking the next administration to make gun violence prevention a priority from the get-go. We want gun violence and DV at the top of the next present’s agenda. We will also build more Republican support for these bills. Where Congress has failed to act, we’ve gone to states. Even in places with strong gun cultures like Iowa and Arizona, we have already had success at improving gun safety laws in several states.


Ann Hedgepeth, Senior Government Relations Manager, American Association of University Women

How sexual assault and violence impacts the way women can access education: Sexual violence on campus is not a new issue. Some strides have been made, and some good laws exist, but more can be done. 1 in 5 women experience attempted or completed sexual assault during college: this has been status quo for a long time. Still, 90% of schools report they have had 0% rapes reported in the past year. The prevalence of campus sexual violence is compelling and important, but schools’ failure to address it is something we should also pay attention to. When sexual assault occurs, the impacts are widespread: One is that students don’t continue their education.

There are two important laws that address these issues: 

Title IX covers the full spectrum of sex discrimination in schools: athletics, tenure opportunities, sexual harassment. And sexual violence is definitely a form of sex discrimination.

The Clery Act, enacted 25 years ago, is a transparency law. This is where we get a lot of data around crimes that occur on campus. The Clery Act requires schools to report campus crimes annually to the federal government, in addition to policies and procedures for addressing crime, including sexual assault. But not all schools are good actors in releasing the required information.

The Clery Act was recently amended as part of the 2013 VAWA reauthorization, in a law called the Campus SaVE Act. This new law required schools to disclose more information about crimes on campus, including dating violence and stalking, and gave schools more guidance on what processes they need to have to address incidents. Every school should be updating and publicizing their policies for students, whether they are reporting an incident or involved in an incident.

But even these powerful laws only go so far. It also depends on what the White House and the Department of Education do with those laws. With this administration, we have seen real efforts to enforce laws and ensure that schools are complying with the requirements. Real activism by students and survivors has made a huge difference, and existing tools within the law gave the administration a push to make progress. Title IX and Clery have real teeth, but the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights must be empowered to enforce the law.

Another tool that we need is campus climate surveys. We don’t know what we don’t know: Schools are only required to disclose incidents that were reported to campus security. But what about everything else? How often are campus resources for victims being accessed? How confidential are those resources? What supports are victims being offered?

Additionally, colleges should formalize relationship with law enforcement. We need to know how it works when a student goes through the campus disciplinary process or makes a report to law enforcement. And schools need to know the local service providers that can help students on campus.

AAUW supports Rep. Jackie Speier’s HALT Sexual Violence on Campus Act, as well as some provisions of Senator McCaskill and Gillibrand’s CASA bill. We have seen some real attacks on survivors by Congress, such as the Fair Campus Act and Safe Campus Act that would have required reporting to police, stymied university processes, and silenced the voices of survivors.

There is real opportunity to make progress in the new Congress.


Ilana Flemming, JWI Manager of Advocacy Initiatives

One of most common and damaging form of DV is financial abuse. This form of abuse makes the victim vulnerable in very specific and very debilitating way.

The CDC estimates that 1 in 3 women experience abuse by an intimate partner, and 1 in 4 women experience severe physical violence. 1 in 4 women also experience rape, and over half are assaulted by an intimate partner.

Gender-based violence remains an epidemic in our country. When this violence intersects with lack of economic security, or restricts economic security, it can impact safety for victims and survivors. Financial dependence on an abuser keeps women tied to abusive relationships. If you think about DV as pattern or behavior by which one person exerts power and control over another, this makes sense — victims are not just emotionally controlled or afraid for their physical safety, but also financially tied. Financial abuse keeps victims trapped.

Financial abuse can mean withholding money, keeping paychecks, destroying credit cards, sabotaging employment, and more. This leaves the victim with few options outside the relationship, and creates more risk for the victim due to financial insecurity and lack of independence.

21% of adults working full-time are DV victims. Every year, a cumulative 8 million days of work are lost due to DV. It’s hard to hold down a full time job if you are missing work due to DV, and many workplaces don’t understand DV or how it impacts victims at work. Being a victim creates vulnerability at work – she could be fired if she discloses the abuse.

Also, the abuser may sabotage employment by making a lot of threatening phone calls at work, call her boss, stalk her at work. A victim who loses job is more tied to abuser, keeping her more isolated. Often, employers want to do right thing but don’t know how, and there is a lack of legal infrastructure to help victims maintain employment safely. 

Paid sick and safe days: Over 4 million workers have no access to paid sick or safe days. 1 in 5 low-wage workers do not have access to paid sick time, and cite loss of income as the #1 reason for not taking unpaid sick days.

Paid safe days are a component of paid sick days legislation that allows victims of domestic violence to take time to deal with implications of victimization. Paid sick days don’t cover unique needs of suriviors, which extend beyond physical illness and need for medical care. Paid safe days cover time needed for counseling, legal assistance, attending court dates, meeting with police, seeking safe housing, and more.

Staying safe in abusive relationship or leaving an abusive relationship is difficult and dangerous. Leaving is the highest risk time for lethality, and a victim is unlikely to be able to leave successfully and safely if she loses her job. Survivors who are afraid of disclosing abuse at work are less likely to seek help. If there are potential consequences to disclosing, victims become even more isolated.

No one should have to choose between a job and their safety, but quite often, that is what happens. Stable employment as a component of financial security is key to victims and survivors.

Legislation that would make a difference:

The SAFE Act - Targets discrimination against survivors in the workplace. Covers a broader definition than most state laws, including domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, and sexual assault.

Allows workers to take up to 30 days of safe time per year, with 7 of those days paid. Protects workers from being fired because of DV, and helps ensure that victims are not discriminated against at work.

The Healthy Families Act – A bill would set national standard for paid sick days. Wrokers would be able to earn up to 7 paid sick days per year, with a provision allowing workers to use those days also as safe days. This would give victims paid, job-protected time off to seek services related to victimization.

Human Trafficking

Leila Milani, Senior International Policy Advocate, Futures Without Violence

4 points where we can all agree:

  • There are approximately 20 million people who are victims of human trafficking in the world today
  • Human traffickers make $150 billion of profit annually
  • There are more individual slaves today than at any other time in human history
  • Cases of human trafficking have been reported in every state, including DC


Runaway & Homeless Youth Trafficking Prevention Act - provides grants to communities so they can reach out to homeless youth on the streets, provide emergency housing, basic life necessities, longer-term housing, and family reunification

Runaway and homeless youth are at extreme risk of coerced labor and sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, and violence. 28% of homeless youth said they have traded sex for basic necessities such as food and shelter.

RHYA programs help identify vulnerable youth early and intervene to prevent trafficking and exploitation. The reauthorization bill includes new provisions related to human trafficking, and adds a nondiscrimination clause to ensure that LGBTQ youth receive services.

SOAR to Health and Wellness act of 2016 - Directs HHS to establish a pilot program to provide training to health care providers to identify victims of human trafficking, and implement protocols and procedures for providers to work with law enforcement and victim service providers.

88% of sex trafficking survivors reported having contact with a healthcare provider while they were being trafficked, but 95% of ER doctors and nurses said they had never received formal training on human trafficking. Healthcare providers are a key resource for trafficking victims, but they need to be given the tools to identify victims and safely intervene.

Trafficking Survivors Relief Act of 2016 – Would clear the criminal records of victims of human trafficking (where the crime was non-violent and was committed as a direct result of trafficking). 

It is common for victims to be charged with crimes such as conspiracy, money laundering, and drug trafficking. So even when trafficking survivors are freed, they often face barriers in obtaining housing or getting a job due to a criminal record. This can leave survivors vulnerable to being re-victimized by traffickers.

2018 VAWA Reauthorization

Rob Valente, Chief Officer for Government Affairs, National Domestic Violence Hotline


First passed in 1994, up for reauthorization in 2018

VAWA funds grant programs, established federal crimes for gender-based violence, helps create consistency between states in serving survivors, established protections for LGBTQ victims, and created protections for Native American tribes addressing GBV.

For this upcoming reauthorization, we have many new and continuing areas of focus. Building in economic security provisions for survivors, immigration protections, alternatives to the criminal justice response, more community-based “gateways” for victims to access services, addressing underserved communities (such as elderly, disabled, and mentally ill populations), and fostering the leadership of communities of color.

This month, the VAWA coalition will be surveying domestic violence service providers to ask: What services are you providing with your current funding? What services do victims ask for? What is the gap between the two?

We need to send a clear message to Congress: Support all victims. There is no room for discrimination in VAWA. 

Download and share these abuse Statistics during October - Domestic Violence Awareness Month!