As the COVID –19 pandemic raged this past year, an increased number of American women endured an ongoing plague of sexual assault. This public health and human rights crisis affects everyone – women, girls, transgender women, transgender men, men, boys, and nonbinary individuals. It is particularly devastating for Black, Indigenous and communities of color, where the criminal justice system is badly compromised by the profound intersections of systemic racism and misogyny. In recognition of National Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Month, NOW urges lawmakers to take swift action to protect and support survivors of sexual assault.
The CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey shows that one in five women has been a victim of a completed or attempted rape during her lifetime. Survivors of assault often face greater risk of chronic disease, economic challenges and a lifetime of medical and mental health care costs. They must also navigate a criminal justice system that often dismisses their concerns and fails to prosecute their attackers.
As with many underlying problems of our society, the pandemic has exacerbated the dire issues surrounding sexual assault. Many survivors are physically cut off from loved ones and friends, a situation made worse in quarantine. Victims may be reluctant to seek medical attention because of potential exposure to the virus. And because of the economic downturn, rape crisis centers are struggling to maintain services with the added burden of putting public health protections in place.
NOW is encouraged by provisions in the Biden Administration’s American Rescue Plan (ARP), which included $450 million in supplemental funding for domestic violence and sexual assault services, including new funding that attempts to tear down the added barriers faced by BIPOC communities through culturally-specific services.
But much more is needed. Congress must also renew the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and ensure that improved protections for Native American women, the LGBTQIA+ community, immigrant survivors and other underserved groups remain. NOW also calls for the creation of national and local programs that will investigate and combat practices of race and gender discrimination in law enforcement, and prioritize collecting and analyzing evidence, and clearing out rape kit backlogs.
These steps are just a few of the many needed to bring about real change for survivors of sexual assault. We must eliminate the constant threat of sexual assault from k-12, college campuses, the military, prisons, immigration detention centers, and in people’s own homes. Survivors must be supported at all levels of recovery, and offenders must be held accountable by law enforcement. Enough is enough.