By Senator Catherine Cortez Masto
Since my time as Attorney General, protecting survivors of domestic violence and keeping our communities safe has always been one of my top priorities. I’ve worked with advocates, providers, agencies and local leaders across the Silver State to help domestic violence survivors receive the services and treatment they need, and I’ve seen firsthand the unique challenges our rural communities face in securing critical resources for survivors and their families. With women living in remote communities experiencing domestic violence at a higher rate and severity than those living in urban areas, it’s clear that we must bolster support for our rural communities to properly protect and care for survivors, educate on the signs of domestic violence and stop this crisis.
While 15.5 percent of women living in cities experience domestic violence, 22.5 percent of women in rural communities and 17.9 percent of women in geographically-isolated areas report instances of domestic or sexual abuse. Domestic violence victims in rural communities also struggle disproportionately in getting critical support resources like mental health treatment and health care, as resources are limited and shelters are often overcrowded or far away. In fact, victims from rural areas must travel on average three time farther to seek support. That is why I worked in the last Congress on a piece of legislation, the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act, to reauthorize federal funding for shelters, counseling and legal services for domestic violence survivors across the country. In addition, this bill would amend the current state planning processes to ensure that the needs of underserved populations and rural communities are met through partnerships with community-based organizations.
I’m also working on legislation to help curb domestic violence and provide the necessary tools to survivors, law enforcement and communities. Congress recently passed into law my bipartisan legislation with Senator Joni Ernst that directs the government to study the relationship between domestic violence and traumatic brain injuries. This legislation will help to obtain data necessary to identify potential brain damage in survivors of abuse as well as improve public education on the link between domestic violence and traumatic brain injuries. I’m also proud to have reintroduced bipartisan legislation in the Senate that will provide tribal communities with vital public safety resources. The SURVIVE Act extends Crime Victim Fund resources to Indian tribes through a competitive grant program and allows funding to be used for the construction of domestic violence shelters and the delivery of legal assistance in Indian Country.
My work in the Senate is informed by the amazing organizations and advocates on the ground in Nevada who are fighting daily to help address this crisis. Last year, I held multiple roundtables in communities throughout Nevada to hear from survivors and their families, law enforcement, health care providers, support organizations and advocates across the state. I’m inspired by Nevadans like Lidia Cortez of Elko, who created a foundation to improve services for victims and families experiencing domestic violence after her daughter was brutally murdered by her partner. Another key moment in this awareness campaign came in October when Winnemucca Domestic Violence Services (WDVS) and former Winnemucca Mayor Di An Putnam hosted the Mayor’s Ball in support of survivors of domestic and sexual violence. The staff and volunteers of WDVS work to better the lives of over 300 survivors in Humboldt County each year. Committed people like Lidia and the staff and volunteers at WDVS are what spur the policy change we need to truly break the cycle of family violence that is even more acute in our rural communities.
It’s clear that Nevadan’s are united in this fight to address domestic violence, and I’m heartened to see the innovative ways that leaders in Nevada’s rural communities are ensuring women and families receive the support they need to find security, recover and thrive. While I’m proud of the strides we’ve made to reduce stigma and increase access to education, intervention and support programs, we must do more. I’m focused on bipartisan solutions that support survivors, educate the public and hold abusers accountable, and I look forward to continuing to support rural community agencies and services that are working to end this crisis.