Senator Cornyn

Cornyn Op-Ed and Video: “Behind Closed Doors: Coronavirus’s Impact on Domestic Violence”

May 11, 2020

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) released the following video highlighting the heightened danger of domestic violence during stay-at-home orders in addition to his joint op-ed with Texas Council of Family Violence CEO Gloria Terry published in the Austin American-Statesman. You can watch the video here.

Behind Closed Doors: Coronavirus’s Impact on Domestic Violence
Senator John Cornyn and Gloria Terry
Austin American-Statesman
May 11, 2020

Texans are spending more time at home than ever before. For some, that’s a significant inconvenience, as they can’t go into work, receive routine medical care, or mark momentous occasions with friends and family. But for those living in abusive situations, conditions have gone from bad to worse.

COVID-19 has created a range of new stressors – economic instability, isolation, health anxiety, teaching children from home – which test even the healthiest of relationships. In an already unhealthy one, the impact can be devastating. In Austin, despite a decrease in overall arrests this March, domestic violence arrests were up 17 percent compared to March 2019.

Under normal circumstances, these complex dynamics require great support from family, friends, and organizations dedicated to helping families in unsafe homes. Our current environment has little semblance to ‘normal’ and has made it significantly more difficult for victims to escape abusive relationships.

The CARES Act, which was signed into law in late March, included $45 million for programs that provide vital services, such as emergency housing for domestic violence survivors and their children. It also provided $2 million for the Austin-based National Domestic Violence Hotline so it can continue to provide critical support and resources for victims as needs grow. This was an important start, yet more must be done.

Domestic violence tears at the very fabric of our society. It is a deadly public health issue, and we must redouble our efforts to bring those realities to the forefront of conversations.

We recently hosted a virtual roundtable with more than a dozen organizations from across Texas that provide life-saving services for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors. One of the most critical needs we discussed is safe housing. Prior to COVID-19, emergency shelter needs in Texas were at an all-time high, causing a 48 percent rejection rate due to capacity limits. Now, shelters have been forced to further decrease capacity to support social distancing, creating an even greater strain.

Stable and affordable housing is intricately linked to safety. The Texas Council on Family Violence found that the inability to secure or retain housing when fleeing can exacerbate safety risks. In 2018, nearly half of the women murdered in Texas by their intimate partners were in the process of separating or had attempted to separate before. While some survivors had resources to access their own housing, the incidence rates indicate most survivors – primarily women and children – need support.

During a time that requires flexible and innovative approaches to confront these new challenges, red tape is preventing organizations from responding in their full ability. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides vital funding for organizations that support victims in need of safe housing. But rigid parameters and competing priorities produce roadblocks for agencies to access and utilize these funds.

To provide short-term financial relief, Governor Greg Abbott waived the federal match requirement for funds provided through the Department of Justice for organizations that help survivors. This was a much-needed step, and we are proud Texas was at the forefront providing flexibility, efficiency, and support to organizations on the front lines of this crisis.

One of the most critical ways to strengthen both short- and long-term assistance for survivors is by reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). For more than 25 years, VAWA has supported survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault through a range of programs and resources. It also bolsters the criminal justice response by providing legal protections for survivors and training for law enforcement.

We must be hypervigilant to COVID-19′s impact on our society on all fronts – particularly those that thrive behind closed doors – and do more to address this epidemic in future relief bills in Congress.

We are confident we will defeat COVID-19 – it is part of our Texas fiber to prevail and rise with strength. The same confidence, commitment, and determination must be mirrored in our fight to end domestic violence.