In the past year, our country has gone through an extraordinary and long overdue moment of reckoning about sexual harassment and assault. It is fitting that the anniversary of the #MeToo movement coincides with Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a time to mourn those who were murdered due to domestic violence, but also to celebrate survivors and continue the work to end violence. While the confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, a man who has faced multiple allegations of sexual assault, is a devastating setback for survivors, allies and the country, the movement to make our country safer and more equitable cannot be reversed. This month, we honor survivors and continue working on their behalf.
Nearly one in three women will experience physical violence and nearly half will experience psychological violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes. Each year, nearly 1,300 women die from intimate partner violence and women of color and the LGBTQ community are disproportionately affected. For Native, multi-racial, and Black women, the majority or near majority will experience physical or psychological violence at some point in their lives. And domestic violence and sexual assault are closely connected to economic security for women and families. Many victims are left economically vulnerable — and trapped in the abusive relationship — by the abuser’s efforts to limit their access to financial resources or interfere with employment. For example, an estimated 60 percent of domestic violence victims lose their jobs as a direct result of their abuse. But leaving the dangerous situation can also put victims and their family at serious financial risk, as that often means losing access not only to a partner’s income, but also to housing, health care, child care or employment.
One policy that can make a significant difference for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking is access to paid sick and safe days, which allow survivors time to leave the relationship, seek support and recover. However, more than 34 million private sector workers still cannot earn a single paid sick day. A federal standard for paid sick and safe days, like the Healthy Families Act, would help survivors focus on what they and their families need, not whether they will lose their jobs and their ability to afford basic expenses like food and rent. Paid sick and safe days enable survivors to secure housing, attend a court proceeding, secure a protective order, get counseling and seek health care services without sacrificing their job.
Eliminating violence against women also must include eradicating reproductive coercion and supporting policies that advance access to reproductive health, rights and justice. Sexual violence, contraceptive sabotage, pressuring a woman to become pregnant against her will, coercing a woman to either carry a pregnancy or end one and physical violence during pregnancy are all forms of abuse that can and do occur within personal relationships. Restrictions on access to the full range of reproductive health care services — including abortion — can leave victims of domestic violence and sexual assault both physically and economically vulnerable.
Policies like the Affordable Care Act and the Title X Family Planning Program have already helped reduce barriers to reproductive health care — but there is more we can do to support survivors’ ability to make independent, autonomous choices about their reproductive lives and to ensure that they have real, meaningful access to whatever options they choose, no matter their race, location, income, or place of employment. For example, the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act would ensure that if a woman gets her care or insurance through the federal government, she will be covered for all pregnancy-related care, including abortion. It would also prohibit political interference with decisions of private health insurance companies to offer coverage for abortion care. While current restrictions on abortion coverage often include an exception for cases of rape, not all do, and many survivors’ experiences do not fit within that exception — but they should still have the right and ability to access abortion care if they choose.
This month, every small action can help to eradicate domestic violence, which is why we’re joining with coalition partners and asking you to commit to #1Thing. We all have the power to stand with survivors in so many ways. Make sure your members of Congress know that they should reauthorize the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act, reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act with targeted fixes and modest enhancements, and pass the Healthy Families Act and EACH Woman Act. In these challenging times, domestic violence survivors need to know that we are working with them for justice and real change.
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) or access their online chat services at www.thehotline.org.
Kimiko Hirota is a Workplace Advocacy Intern at the National Partnership for Women & Families and a junior at Stanford University.Back