Senate Passes Sullivan, Heitkamp Bill to Combat Domestic Violence

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) today applauded the Senate’s unanimous passage of their bipartisan bill which they recently introduced, to help combat domestic abuse and sexual violence.

The Pro bono Work to Empower and Represent (POWER) Act mandates that each year, the United States Attorney in each judicial district across the country work with domestic violence service providers or coalitions and an area volunteer lawyer project to hold at least one event which promotes pro bono legal services. The purpose is to reinforce a critical way of empowering survivors of domestic violence, engage citizens, and help lift victims out of the cycle of abuse. Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, cosponsored the bill.

Also critically important to both Senators is addressing the high rates of domestic and sexual violence among the Native American and Alaska Native populations in their states – so the bill includes a provision requiring many United States Attorney’s offices to work with the Native populations in their judicial district in planning and holding an event every few years with a focus on addressing these crimes in Indian Country and among Native populations.

Senators Sullivan and Heitkamp, both former attorneys general of their states, understand how the legal system can help prevent the probability that victims will again be abused, and that a lack of access to legal services is one of the leading obstacles for women with children in getting out of domestic violence situations.

“Domestic violence and sexual assault are scourges that we must work to eliminate,” said Senator 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 workshop 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 my colleague from North Dakota for joining me on this bill. We were sent to Washington, D.C. to make a difference. This bill will help make a difference.”

“Making sure domestic violence victims everywhere, including in Indian Country, have access to affordable legal services could change many lives, and that’s what the bipartisan bill Senator Sullivan and I introduced aims to do,” said Senator Heitkamp. “In tribal communities, rates of victimization are staggering, but far too often, victims aren’t able to pay for legal services to help make changes. In this bill, we require states like North Dakota to focus on support for Indian Country as part of these efforts, as well as all victims of these terrible crimes. As North Dakota’s Attorney General, I was proud to implement the original Violence Against Women Act across the state in the 1990s, and to reauthorize it as a U.S. Senator. No victim should live in the shadows of fear – and with strong action, we can help many victims of domestic violence end their nightmares of abuse.”

Approximately 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence during her lifetime. Many do not get the help and support they need. The National Network to End Domestic Violence estimated that over the course of one day in September 2014, up to 10,000 requests for services, including legal representation, were unmet because of a lack of services.