Sullivan, Heitkamp Reintroduce Bill to Combat Domestic Violence

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) today reintroduced the Pro bono Work to Empower and Represent (POWER) Act, to help combat domestic abuse and sexual violence. Senators Shaheen (D-NH), Murkowski (R-AK), Capito (R-WV), Cornyn (R-TX) and Daines (R-MT) also co-sponsored the bill.

“Today we mark the seventh anniversary of Alaska’s first Choose Respect marches against the epidemic of domestic violence and sexual assault, part of the larger initiative started when I served as Alaska’s attorney general. Alaskans have made progress in combatting this scourge, but the continued unacceptably high rates of domestic violence relative to the rest of the nation mean that more work needs to be done,” said Senator Sullivan. “Pro bono assistance from Alaska’s legal community has been a particularly helpful tool in giving hope to victims of domestic violence. The POWER Act will bring this tool to more communities, encouraging lawyers across the country to get involved and help victims who too often fear or are unfamiliar with the justice system. I am optimistic that in the new Congress, with a number of new colleagues signing on, we can get the POWER Act passed and onto President Trump’s desk.”

“No victim of domestic violence should have to live in fear for their safety because they can’t afford legal protection, but for too many voiceless women and men across the country, that every day fear is their reality. We can do better,” said Senator Heitkamp. “By making sure legal services are available to domestic violence victims, our bipartisan bill seeks to help end the cycle of violence that imprisons so many across this country. As former Attorneys General, Senator Sullivan and I both understand how the lack of access to legal services can prevent survivors from finding the assistance necessary to stop the cycle of abuse and escape their abuser. That’s why our bill asks U.S. Attorneys across the country to prioritize pro-bono legal work or services to address domestic violence in their states – particularly for the most vulnerable populations like women in North Dakota’s Indian Country – so victims of domestic violence can obtain the services and information they need to finally walk away from their abusers and move forward with their lives.”

The POWER Act directs that each year, the United States Attorney in each judicial district across the country hold at least one event, in partnership with domestic violence service providers or volunteer lawyer projects, which promotes pro bono legal services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Each office is also asked to submit a report to the Attorney General detailing the occurrence of the event to the Department of Justice which will then compile the nation-wide reports into a single report to be submitted to Congress annually.

Providing legal services after the first experience of domestic violence can be a proactive solution to stopping continued domestic violence. Legal representation increases the possibility of successfully obtaining a protective order against an attacker from 32 percent without an attorney to 83 percent with an attorney. Approximately one-in-four women will suffer some form of domestic violence during their lifetime. According to a national survey by the National Network to End Domestic Violence, in one day over 12,000 requests for services, including legal representation, for domestic violence survivors were unmet.

Additonally, 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. 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. 

Congressman Joe Kennedy (D-MA) and other House members are expected to introduce companion legislation next week in the House.

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