When I was in my 20s, I served as one of the youngest Chicago homicide detectives in the city’s history. The calls I responded to that keep me awake at night — some 50 odd years later — are those involving domestic violence.
Addressing domestic violence and the effects that this uniquely personal and harmful crime has on survivors, children and whole communities is an issue I have focused my policy efforts on from day one of my public service career. Beginning with my time as a member of the Arizona State Legislature, all the way to the halls of Congress, I’ve advocated for reform that ensures funding for the programs and resources needed to get whole families into stable, safe situations.
As a member of the Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence, this month, I cosponsored a resolution to recognize October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Together, as a Congress, we must commit to doing whatever is in our power to secure justice for survivors, both in and out of the courtroom.
To this end, I’m proud to have championed legislation that uplifts survivors across Arizona.
This week, I will re-introduce my Help End Abusive Living Situations, or “HEALS” Act.
My bill assists survivors of domestic violence to rapidly secure safe housing situations by directing the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to prioritize funds for transitional housing, rapid re-housing and permanent supportive housing for survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.
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No person experiencing these crimes should be forced to stay in a dangerous situation because they do not have housing elsewhere.
But safe housing is not the only nuance at play. The horrible legacy of domestic violence affects the safety and stability of whole communities, including tribal communities, where federal data indicates that 55% of American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced physical violence by an intimate partner — far higher than the national average.
As the Representative for Arizona’s First Congressional District, I am humbled to represent 12 sovereign tribal nations. Despite documented need, it is estimated that less than one percent of the Crime Victim’s Fund reaches tribes.
This Congress, I re-introduced two of my bills that address domestic violence in tribal communities.
First, the SURVIVE Act: a bill to provide legal, medical, and counseling resources to women and children in tribal communities who are survivors of domestic violence. This bill also corrects the Crime Victim’s Fund’s allocation to tribes, ensuring they receive a fair percentage of resources.
Second, my Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act: bipartisan legislation that ensures children and law enforcement officials in tribal communities are protected when present at domestic violence incidents.
Currently, tribes can convict non-Indian perpetrators of protection order violations, domestic violence, and dating violence. But, under current law, both the children of survivors and law enforcement officers who risk their lives to save victims are not protected by these same laws. My bill extends this tribal jurisdiction to cover kids and cops, who so often deal with the fallout of dangerous domestic violence situations.
With more women and children at home with their abusers over this past year, the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated many challenges already faced by survivors of domestic violence, but I am committed to continued work with my colleagues in Congress, advocates on the ground in Arizona, and brave survivors. We hear you, and we believe you.
To those experiencing domestic violence and to those that have lost a loved one to this heinous and deeply personal form of violence, let me say this: I know that we cannot ever truly know your pain, but we will keep fighting for change at every level.
Tom O’Halleran is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives representing Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. A Democrat, he lives in the Village of Oak Creek.