KENNEDY INTROS BIPARTISAN BILL TO ASSIST DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SURVIVORS
Washington, D.C. – In response to a pervasive lack of legal assistance for domestic violence survivors, Congressman Joe Kennedy III today introduced the bipartisan POWER Act, which would help connect victims with legal representation. Studies have shown that survivors who can afford or access a lawyer successfully obtain restraining orders in 83% of cases, compared to 32% without a lawyer. The bill is co-sponsored by Congressman Don Young (R-AK), Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Congresswoman Susan Brooks (R-IN).
“For the victims of domestic violence, our justice system should be a safe haven,” said Congressman Kennedy. “Instead, too many survivors show up in court and face the very same fear and intimidation they are trying to escape. Without access to legal assistance, many confront their abuser alone in court, victimized once again. The POWER Act will help restore the promise of equal protection for the millions of domestic violence victims across our country.”
The POWER Act would require each U.S. Attorney’s office to annually host a public event supporting pro bono legal services for survivors of domestic violence. The U.S. Attorneys would report to the Department of Justice which will then compile a single report to Congress each year summarizing the events and discussing their effectiveness.
Senators Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), introduced a companion version in the Senate, which passed with unanimous support.
“No community or state is immune to the devastating impacts of domestic violence and sexual abuse. As a nation, we must do all we can to stem the tide of this growing epidemic,” said Congressman Don Young. “The POWER Act is only one small step in these efforts, but an important tool to empower victims with the necessary legal resources to seek justice. I’m proud to join Representative Kennedy and Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan in this effort to end the evils of domestic violence.”
“The frequency of domestic violence is more prevalent than most realize—nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the U.S. This staggering statistic will not change and could become worse if we don't empower survivors with the support they need to move forward,” said Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. “In Hawaiʻi, 575 domestic violence survivors seek support from local programs and services every single day, and too often, their needs go unmet. The POWER Act will give domestic violence survivors in Hawaiʻi and across the country access to affordable legal services as well as the protection that is often needed for themselves and their families.”
“Approximately one in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, and domestic violence survivors are not guaranteed a lawyer. As a result, many of these survivors are trapped in a cycle of abuse with no way to escape,” said Congresswoman Susan Brooks. “Civil legal aid has been proven to reduce domestic violence, because it helps survivors secure protective orders and get out of abusive situations. As a former U.S. Attorney, I am hopeful that U.S. Attorney offices across the country can play a role in raising awareness for the need of pro bono legal services, connecting victims of domestic violence with legal aid, and ultimately, empowering survivors.”
“Domestic violence and sexual assault are scourges that we must work to eliminate,” said Senator Dan Sullivan. “One of my priorities as Attorney General for Alaska was to tackle the unacceptably high rates of domestic violence and sexual assault in my state. Among other initiatives, I put on a pro bono summit that gathered lawyers from all across the state and saw firsthand how effective such efforts can be. I’m grateful that many lawyers in my state continue to provide much-needed legal services to victims on a pro bono basis. And I am grateful to Congressman Kennedy for introducing this bill in the House of Representatives. We were sent to Washington, D.C. to make a difference. This bill will help make a difference.”
“Too often, victims of domestic violence are unable to seek permanent refuge because they lack the protective legal services that keep them safe from their abusers – but our bill aims to change this,” said Senator Heidi Heitkamp. “We can make sure domestic violence victims – especially those living in Indian Country – can access affordable legal services that can help them escape the often cyclical abuse they experience. Last fall, the Senate unanimously passed the bipartisan bill Senator Sullivan and I introduced to help make those services more available, and it’s great news that Congressman Kennedy is building on that momentum by introducing our bill in the House of Representatives today with a bipartisan group of cosponsors. As North Dakota’s former Attorney General, I understand the many legal needs of victims of domestic violence – and how difficult access to those services can be. By asking our U.S. Attorney’s to take the lead in prioritizing increased access to legal protections for victims of these crimes, with a particular focus in states like North Dakota on our most vulnerable populations including women in Indian Country, this bill helps make sure those critical defense tools are available to victims who need them most.”