WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 28, 2017) – In response to a pervasive lack of legal assistance for domestic violence survivors, Eastern Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05) joined Congressman Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) today in introducing the bipartisan POWER Act, which would help connect victims with legal representation. Studies have shown that survivors who can afford or access a lawyer successfully obtain restraining orders in 83% of cases, compared to 32% without a lawyer. The bill is also co-sponsored by Congressman Don Young (R-AK), Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), and Congresswoman Susan Brooks (R-IN).
“Lack of access to legal representation allows fear and intimidation to follow sexual and domestic violence survivors into our courtrooms,” said Congressman Kennedy. “It undermines our justice system’s guarantee of equal protection at the moment that protection matters most. For the millions of domestic violence victims across our country, the POWER Act will help restore the sacred promise.”
The POWER Act would require each U.S. Attorney’s office to annually host a public event supporting pro bono legal services for survivors of sexual and domestic violence. The U.S. Attorneys would report to the Department of Justice which will then compile a single report to Congress each year summarizing the events and discussing their effectiveness.
“When it often feels there is nowhere else to turn, survivors of domestic violence should know that there are resources available to them,” said Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers. “This legislation encourages survivors to step out of the shadows, and break free from the cycle of abuse.”
“I am proud to join Representative Kennedy in re-introducing the POWER Act in the 115th Congress,” said Congressman Don Young. “This legislation, which directs US Attorneys to hold annual events supporting pro bono legal services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, would make it much easier for victims of these terrible crimes to secure legal representation and justice. We must do all we can to support the victims of these terrible crimes, and the POWER Act serves as one step to achieve that goal.”
“Survivors of domestic violence are not guaranteed access to a lawyer, a fact which can trap survivors in a cycle of abuse and prevent them from securing critical protective orders,” said Congresswoman Susan Brooks. “Civil legal services provide vital resources and advice to survivors and help them get out of abusive situations. Too often, survivors aren’t aware of or able to gain access to the legal resources available to them. The POWER Act will help connect victims of domestic violence to legal aid, empower survivors and raise awareness about the need for pro bono legal services.”
Senators Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), introduced a companion version in the Senate.
“Pro bono assistance from our nation’s legal community has been a particularly helpful tool in giving hope to victims of domestic violence,” said Senator Dan Sullivan. “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. It will create an army of pro-bono attorneys nationwide that will turn victims into survivors. I am optimistic that in the new Congress, with bills introduced in both chambers and 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 Heidi 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.”