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Congresswoman Debbie Dingell

Representing the 12th District of Michigan

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Dingell, Costello Introduce Bipartisan VAWA Health Legislation

December 4, 2018
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Representatives Debbie Dingell (MI-12) and Ryan Costello (PA-06) introduced bipartisan legislation to strengthen the health care system’s identification, assessment and response to domestic violence, sexual assault and dating violence survivors with an expanded focus on accessing behavioral health and safety resources across the lifespan.

Studies show a strong correlation between those receiving mental health and substance abuse services and the likelihood of domestic violence as a root cause. Between 31 and 67 percent of women in substance use disorder treatment programs report experiencing domestic violence within the past year and over 50 percent of survivors of domestic violence have experienced depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), substance abuse and suicidal thoughts. More collaboration is needed between health systems and community advocates to ensure victims have the support they need to escape the abuse and improve their overall health and safety.

In an effort to bring together mental health and substance abuse treatment centers and domestic and sexual violence service providers, Dingell and Costello introduced the Violence Against Women Health Act. The legislation would build upon the 2013 Violence Against Women Act’s (VAWA) health title, a prevention and response initiative that trains health care providers and strengthens collaborations between public health and domestic violence agencies to better identify and serve victims of violence. The Violence Against Women Health Act expands training to behavioral health care providers on how to assess for signs of domestic violence and adds a focus on early childhood programs and abuse in later life to recognize the lifetime impacts of violence and abuse.

“There is no reason a survivor should face hurdles when trying to connect with the services they need to recover,” said Dingell. “Medical professionals of all kinds can save lives through a referral to the appropriate domestic violence and sexual assault community services. Our bipartisan legislation brings together the fragmented mental health and domestic violence systems so we can best serve survivors.”

So far, the VAWA Health Program has trained more than 13,000 health care providers to assess for and respond to domestic and sexual violence in over 230 clinical settings serving more than 1.3 million patients.

“Growing a network of medical professionals who are trained to spot signs of abuse will strengthen communities,” said Costello. “Children and elders can be survivors too, we need to think outside the box on how to prevent violence across the spectrum.”

You can read the text of the Violence Against Women Health Act here, and the summary here.

In addition to Dingell and Costello, the Violence Against Women Health Act is co-sponsored in the House by Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Mimi Walters (R-CA), Kathy Castor (D-FL), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), and John Katko (R-NY).

The legislation is also supported by numerous organizations including the American Academy of Neurology, American Psychological Association, American Geriatrics Society, American Association of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, YWCA USA, Futures Without Violence, National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health, DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Ujima: The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence in the Black Community, and National Network to End Domestic Violence.

“Women and children who have lived through domestic violence and sexual assault require health professionals to provide services sensitive to the traumatic events they have experienced. The number of people affected by gender-based violence will only continue to increase as women and survivors are stepping out of the shadow of fear. It is crucial that health professionals meet them where they are, prevent re-traumatization, and recognize the long-lasting impact of violence throughout an individual’s lifetime,” said Alejandra Castillo, CEO of YWCA USA.

“With support from VAWA Health Title, health providers have been key partners in helping identify and support victims of domestic and sexual violence – but there is so much more work to be done. Representatives Costello and Dingell are champions for woman survivors and their families and this bipartisan legislation is laying the groundwork for preventing and addressing the health impacts of violence and abuse across the lifespan,” said Esta Soler, President of Futures Without Violence.

“As someone who has been working on issues related to violence against women for 40 years, it has taken a long time for policymakers to recognize the intersections between mental health, substance use and domestic violence and to support policies and services that address these concerns. While it is well documented that violence against women has significant mental health and substance use-related consequences, clinicians are frequently unaware of the types of abuse specifically targeted towards a survivor’s substance use and mental health. Common examples include: intentionally undermining a partner’s sanity and sobriety, preventing a partner from accessing treatment, sabotaging a partner’s recovery efforts, and using mental health and substance use issues to discredit a partner with potential sources of safety and support. Historically, addressing these less visible forms of abuse has been viewed as a secondary priority. By recognizing these links and supporting a new behavioral health pilot program along with enhanced research and data collection, we will be able to change the way behavioral health providers and systems respond to domestic violence.” said Carole Warshaw, M.D., Director of the National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health.

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