PROVIDENCE, RI -- While people are ordered to stay home, work remotely, and avoid public places to help prevent the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19), those experiencing domestic violence and sexual assault within their households are finding themselves at greater risk.  While Rhode Island’s domestic violence shelters and sexual assault programs remain open and continue providing services, U.S. Senator Jack Reed says the federal government must step up and provide additional support tailored to preventing domestic violence, stopping abusers, and helping adults, children, and seniors stuck at home.

Governor Gina M. Raimondo recently reported that domestic violence calls are up by 30 percent and the state is taking a comprehensive approach to help victims and prevent abuse.

“This pandemic is hard on everyone, but for victims trapped in close proximity with an abuser it is an absolute nightmare and Congress should step in and do more to help.  We can’t let COVID-19 become a barrier to life-saving help for abuse victims in harm’s way,” said Senator Reed, who penned a letter last month with several colleagues urging the Trump Administration to do more to support organizations that help victims and survivors of domestic violence.  “We've got to increase access points to help so people in need of domestic abuse services can get the assistance they need.  Safety is our priority and we must ensure people in trouble have a way out and resources in place to help them.  Congress provided an initial down payment in the CARES Act to help prevent domestic violence, but further action is urgently needed.”

While the original proposed Coronavirus Aide, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act (S.3548) offered by U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) did not include federal funding for victims of domestic violence, Senator Reed successfully advocated to include $92 million to help prevent domestic abuse, sexual assault, and child abuse in the final bill.  As a result, the CARES Act (Public Law No. 116-136) provides $45 million for the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Child Welfare Services Program and $45 million for programs under the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA), which help provide emergency housing and shelter to domestic violence survivors nationwide.  The bill also includes $2 million for the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), and its web site:

The Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence (RICADV) also runs a confidential, statewide hotline that is staffed 24/7 at 1-800-494-8100.  And while many courts have temporarily closed, the Garrahy Judicial Complex in Providence is open to hear matters regarding domestic violence.  Victims of abuse can still apply to obtain ex parte — a hearing of only one party in the dispute — emergency orders.  The court’s restraining order office may be reached at: (401) 458-3372. 

Senator Reed says these resources for victims and survivors are crucial during this time of heightened risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic and is calling for Congress to take additional steps.

Senator Reed is urging Congress to provide additional federal funding to prevent domestic and sexual violence and aid victims in future coronavirus emergency relief legislation.  Reed highlighted several key initiatives to be funded, including:

• At least $225 million for Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) STOP Grants with a priority on flexible funding for victim service providers;

• At least $100 million for the Sexual Assault Service Program;

• At least $100 million for the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act programs;

• At least $40 million to VAWA Transitional Housing Assistance Grants;

• At least $10 million for Grants for Outreach and Services to Underserved Populations;

• Waive matching fund requirements for the FVPSA, CAPTA, and Victims of Crime Act grants during this crisis to more quickly meet survivors’ needs; and

• Additional, dedicated funding for Tribes and tribal organizations for domestic violence prevention and victim services.

Senator Reed is also calling for the Trump Administration to ensure that survivors who are in a vulnerable position can safely receive and access their direct coronavirus relief payments such as $1,200 checks or deposits or other benefits.