Domestic violence rising, expired Violence Against Women Act hangs in limbo

After expiring last year, the Violence Against Women Act — landmark legislation that includes federal protections and support for survivors — hasn't been renewed, while domestic violence is spiking amid the pandemic, 19th News reports.

According to the Department of Justice, intimate partner violence dropped by more than 60 percent between 1994 and 2010, a decline experts partially attribute to VAWA, which was signed into law 26 years ago. However, the act requires renewal every five years, and efforts to pass it have stalled, largely over disputes about a provision that would ban gun purchases by people with domestic violence convictions against a partner they're not married to, and don't live or co-parent with.

"Right when more services are needed, they're [at risk], and that's a problem," said Victoria Nourse, a law professor at Washington, D.C.-based Georgetown University who helped draft VAWA in 1994.

Preliminary data ties the pandemic to a significant rise in domestic violence and domestic homicide. There have been more calls to domestic violence hotlines, the police and rape crisis centers, and researchers at Boston-based Brigham and Women's Hospital found an increase in patients with physical injuries from intimate partner violence.

Previous national disasters have been tied to higher rates of intimate partner violence. Economic stress created by the pandemic also likely contributes to the heightened violence rates, while stay-at-home orders leave those experiencing violence with fewer places to escape, experts say.

An increase in domestic violence could have deep-rooted implications on public health. Research suggests domestic abuse can heighten the risk of long-term cardiac problems, while symptoms of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder can manifest years after.

More articles on public health:
States closing, pausing, reopening
CMS kicks off flu shot campaign
US infectious disease funding up fourfold since 2014, report finds

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