Letter to the Secretary of Department of Homeland Security to Protect Access to Safety and Justice for Immigrant Survivors of Gender-Based Violence

The National Taskforce to End Sexual and Domestic Violence (NTF), comprised of national leadership organizations advocating on behalf of sexual and domestic violence survivors and representing thousands of allied organizations and advocates, condemns recent statements from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that seriously undermine important protections for immigrant victims of gender-based violence and that curtail their ability to seek safety through the courts.  We call on DHS to recognize that immigrant survivors deserve access to safety and justice, and we request that DHS meet with representatives of our member organizations to discuss ways to ensure that ICE policies and procedures do not deter survivors of domestic and sexual violence from accessing critical protections.  

We are very concerned that the recent letter issued by DHS Secretary Kelly and Attorney General Sessions to the Chief Justice of California, dated March 29, 2017,[1] a recent statement by a DHS spokesman to the Washington Post[2] regarding ICE’s courthouse enforcement policies, and confirmation on April 5 by Secretary Kelly during Senate testimony that DHS will apprehend immigrant victims of crime at courthouses, fail to take into consideration the detrimental impact of these policies on immigrant victims and witnesses. They also fail to take into consideration special remedies and confidentiality protections for immigrant victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and trafficking created by Congress under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), which were both reauthorized in a bipartisan fashion by Congress in 2013. Given the breadth of the current ICE enforcement priorities, there will be victims detained and removed who are eligible for immigration relief. DHS should not allow survivors to be detained or removed before they are able to obtain immigration protections afforded them by Congress.  

Furthermore, we are deeply concerned that enforcement activities conducted at places where victims and witnesses seek assistance will undermine public safety for all by discouraging others from seeking protection and participating in criminal processes to hold perpetrators accountable. In the past several weeks, police chiefs and prosecutors have already noted steep  reductions in the reporting of domestic violence and sexual assault crimes to law enforcement.[3]

When ICE enforcement increased significantly after 2007, including through the expansion of the Secure Communities and 287(g) programs, it had a detrimental impact on numerous victims and witnesses and ICE eventually took steps to address this situation. ICE issued a policy memorandum, dated June 17, 2011, entitled “Prosecutorial Discretion: Certain Victims, Witnesses and Plaintiffs” (Victim Witness Memo).[4] This memorandum reminds ICE officials of existing protections under VAWA and under the TVPA and states that “Absent special circumstances or aggravating factors, it is against ICE policy to initiate removal proceedings against an individual known to be the immediate victim or witness to a crime.” Furthermore, the Victim Witness Memo states:

“To avoid deterring individuals from reporting crimes and from pursuing actions

to protect their civil rights, ICE officers, special agents, and attorneys are reminded to

exercise all appropriate discretion on a case-by-case basis when making detention

and enforcement decisions in the cases of victims of crime…”[5]

ICE’s recent positions on protections and processes for immigrant survivors have been inconsistent and confusing and makes our communities and survivors less safe. In recent media articles highlighting growing fears among immigrant victims to seek protection, ICE indicated that the prior guidance about prosecutorial discretion for victims remains in effect.[6] However, subsequent statements from a different DHS spokesperson, David Lapan, on April 4, 2017, as well as the testimony of the DHS Secretary in a Senate hearing before the Homeland Security Committee on April 5, 2017, suggest otherwise.

The confusion regarding the status of existing ICE processes and procedures not only impacts the ability of our organizations to provide accurate information to survivors who are seeking assistance, but also affects survivors directly. If victims feel the court is an unsafe place for them to seek protection out of fear of deportation, they will choose not to report sexual assault or choose to stay with abusive partners, where they and their children endure increased violence.

On March 8, 2017, over 560 national, state, and local organizations signed a letter sent to Secretary Kelly and Acting ICE Director Homan expressing concerns about the detrimental impact of recent DHS policy changes on immigrant victims.[7] The NTF calls on Secretary Kelly and Acting Director Homan to:

·         Meet with representatives of our member organizations to discuss the intent of VAWA to help immigrant victims access safety and justice and to discuss the impact of ICE’s practices on survivors of violence; and

·         Provide clear guidance, both to the public and to ICE officials nationwide, that the 2011 ICE Victim Witness Memo remains operational and should be  implemented by ICE officials when interacting with victims and witnesses. 

We also call on the Administration and Congressional leaders to stand up for immigrant victims of domestic and sexual violence and oppose ICE’s role in undermining VAWA and TVPA protections and reducing the ability of immigrant victims to seek safety.

For more information, please contact Grace Huang, Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, at ghuang@api-gbv.org ; Rosie Hidalgo, Casa De Esperanza: National Latin@ Network, at rhidalgo@casadeesperanza.org ; or Archi Pyati, Tahirih Justice Center at ArchiP@tahirih.org.


[1] Letter from Secretary Kelly and Attoney General Sessions to Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, March 29, 2017, found at https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/3533530/Attorney-General-and-Homeland-Security-Secretary.pdf

[2] DHS spokesman David Lapan failed to acknowledge any special considerations when ICE agents arrest a victim or witness and said tha that the factors that could lead ICE agents to arrest a victim or witness “could be any number of things – again, the categories that we’ve talked about that make them subject to arrest or potential removal still apply to somebody who might him or herself be a victim.”  See Devlin Barrett, “DHS: Immigration agents may arrest crime victims, witnesses at courthouses”  Washington Post. April 4, 2017. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/dhs-immigration-agents-may-arrest-crime-victims-witnesses-at-courthouses/2017/04/04/3956e6d8-196d-11e7-9887-1a5314b56a08_story.html

[3] Heidi Glenn, “Fear Of Deportation Spurs 4 Women To Drop Domestic Abuse Cases In Denver” NPR. March 21, 2017. Available at: http://www.npr.org/2017/03/21/520841332/fear-of-deportation-spurs-4-women-to-drop-domestic-abuse-cases-in-denver.    See also James Queally,“Latinos are reporting fewer sexual assaults amid a climate of fear in immigrant communities, LAPD says” Los Angeles Times March 21, 2017. Available at: http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-immigrant-crime-reporting-drops-20170321-story.html  See also Brooke A. Lewis, “HPD Chief Announces Decrease in Hispanics Reporting Rape and Violent Crime Compared toLast Year.” Houston Chronicle. April 6, 2017. Available at: http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/HPD-chief-announces-decrease-in-Hispanics-11053829.php

[4] Memorandum from John Morton, Director, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, “Prosecutorial Discretion: Certain Victims, Witnesses, and Plaintiffs,” 10076.1 (June 17, 2011). Available at: https://www.ice.gov/doclib/secure-communities/pdf/domestic-violence.pdf

[5] Id at 2.

[6] Tyler Kingkade, “Domestic Abuse Victims Aren’t Coming Forward Because They’re Scared Of Being Deported” Buzzfeed. March 16, 2017. Available at: https://www.buzzfeed.com/tylerkingkade/under-trump-domestic-abuse-victims-are-more-afraid-of-being?utm_term=.yuR99PpQ0M#.kjPnnMzP7y “(reporting that an ICE official “…said that the 2011 directive that advises immigration officers to use discretion when dealing with abuse victims remains in effect. ‘Particular attention is paid to victims of domestic violence, human trafficking or other serious crimes,’ Jennifer D. Elzea, acting press secretary for ICE, told BuzzFeed News in a statement.”) See also Nora Caplan-Brickler. “I Wish I Never Called the Police” Slate.  March 19, 2017. Available at: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/cover_story/2017/03/u_visas_gave_a_safe_path_to_citizenship_to_victims_of_abuse_under_trump.html (reporting that “ICE spokeswoman Danielle Bennett told me that the 2011 policy remains in effect and that ICE ‘will take into consideration if an individual is the immediate victim or witness to a crime, in determining whether to take enforcement action.’” 

[7] See March 8, 2017 Sign on Letter to DHS Secretary John Kelly and Acting ICE Director Thomas HomanAvailable at: http://www.asistahelp.org/documents/news/Sign_on_Letter_to_DHS_and_ICEProtec_AD96AD5C060E1.pdf

Statement on Proposals Seeking to Undermine Community Trust Policies

As the Steering Committee of the National Taskforce to End Sexual and Domestic Violence (NTF), comprising national leadership organizations advocating on behalf of sexual and domestic violence victims and women’s rights, we represent hundreds of organizations across the country dedicated to ensuring all survivors of violence receive the protections they deserve. For this reason, we write to express our deep concerns about the potential impact that proposals that seek to undermine community trust policies will have. Proposals that weaken community trust policies will be dangerous for victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and trafficking, and in particular, for immigrant victims, and communities at large.

Undermining policies that local jurisdictions have determined are constitutionally sound and appropriate for their respective communities decreases the ability of law enforcement agencies to respond to violent crimes and assist all victims of crime, U.S. Citizens and immigrants alike. As recognized in the bipartisan Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), law enforcement plays a critical role in our coordinated community response to domestic and sexual violence.

Perpetrators use fear of deportation as abuse. Local policies that minimize intertwining of local law enforcement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) help bring the most vulnerable victims out of the shadows by creating trust between law enforcement and the immigrant community, which in turn help protect entire communities.[1]  Abusers and traffickers use the fear of deportation of their victims as a tool to silence and trap them. Not only are the individual victims harmed, but their fear of law enforcement leads many to abstain from reporting violent perpetrators or coming forward and, as a result, dangerous criminals are not identified and go unpunished.

Community trust policies are critical tools for increasing community safety. Laws that seek to intertwine the immigration and law enforcement systems will undermine the Congressional purpose of protections enacted under VAWA and will have the chilling effect of pushing immigrant victims into the shadows and allow criminals to walk on our streets. As VAWA recognizes, immigrant victims of violent crimes often do not contact law enforcement due to fear that they will be deported. According to a study conducted by the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Latin@ Network: Casa de Esperanza, 45% of the foreign-born callers expressed fear of calling and/or seeking help from the police or courts.[2]  Furthermore, 12% of US-Born callers expressed fear of seeking help due to the current wave of anti-immigrant policies. Immigrants are already afraid of contacting the police and these policies to further intertwine immigration and law enforcement systems will only exacerbate this fear.  The result is that perpetrators will be able to continue to harm others, both immigrant and U.S. Citizen victims alike.

Recent Immigration Executive Orders are Undermining Victim Protections in our Communities Since January, victim advocates are describing the immense fear expressed by immigrant victims and their reluctance to reach out for help from police. Advocates at domestic violence programs in jurisdictions with large undocumented populations are reporting a “large drop in the number of women coming in for services,” indicating victims are not pursuing criminal charges against abusers or moving into domestic violence shelters.[3] Advocacy programs are reporting significant increases in calls from immigrant victims, many of whom are seeking information on the advisability of working with law enforcement and prosecution given their fear of deportation in light of the Executive Orders. Other advocates are reporting a drop in the number of victims seeking accompaniment to work with police and seek protection orders. Thousands of victim advocates nationwide are reporting that they are uncertain how to best advise immigrant survivors about what will happen if they call the police or go to court.

Recent reports from law enforcement officials confirm this widespread fear and uncertainty. In Los Angeles, Police Chief Charlie Beck has reported that his city is already seeing evidence of this increased fear: Reports of sexual assault have dropped by 25 percent and domestic violence by 10 percent among the Latino population since the beginning of the year.[4] In Denver, Colorado, City Attorney Kristin Bronson reported that since the issuance of the interior enforcement Executive Order, four domestic-violence victims have declined to pursue charges against their abusers out of fear of  deportation.[5] The Travis County, Texas District Attorney similarly reported that at least one domestic violence case there recently stalled because the victim declined to press charges out of fear of deportation.[6]   When victims are afraid to come forward, abusers and perpetrators will be able to continue to harm victims with impunity and our entire communities are affected.

For these reasons, we urge you to affirm the intent and spirit of VAWA by supporting strong relationships between law enforcement and immigrant communities, which is critical for public safety in general, and particularly essential for domestic and sexual violence victims. Thank you very much for your efforts to protect and support immigrant of domestic violence and sexual assault.

For more information, please contact Grace Huang, Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence at ghuang@api-gbv.org, or Rosie Hidalgo, National Latin@ Network: Casa de Esperanza, at rhidalgo@casadeesperanza.org.


The National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence


[1] A study conducted by the University of Illinois- Chicago found that increased involvement of local police and immigration enforcement eroded trust between the police and immigrants, undocumented and documented. 45% of documented immigrants were less likely to report a crime while 70% of undocumented immigrants responded similarly. http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/07/sanctuary-cities-public-safety-kate-steinle-san-francisco.
See also, http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/01/29/512002076/why-sanctuary-cities-are-safer.

[2] http://www.nationallatinonetwork.org/images/files/HotlineReport_2_2015_Final.pdf; http://nomore.org/nomas/ http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/7112130?

[3] Tyler Kingkade, Trump Deportation Vow Is Scaring Domestic Abuse Victims From Coming Forward, Buzzfeed News (Mar. 16, 2017), http://bzfd.it/2nNRX9L.

[4]James Queally, Latinos are reporting fewer sexual assaults amid a climate of fear in immigrant communities, LAPD says, L.A. Times (Mar. 21, 2017), http://lat.ms/2nPwdva.    

[5] Mark Joseph Stern, Bad for Undocumented Immigrants, a Gift to Domestic Abusers, Slate.com (Mar. 8, 2017), http://slate.me/2mZlJvS

[6] Nora Caplan-Bricker, I Wish I’d Never Called the Police, Slate.com (Mar. 19, 2017), http://slate.me/2mYrYgC.

The National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Condemns the Detention of an Immigrant Transgender Victim of Domestic Violence in El Paso, and Calls for Her Immediate Release

The National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence (“NTF”), comprised of national leadership organizations advocating on behalf of sexual and domestic violence victims and women’s rights, including immigrant and LGBTQ organizations, strongly condemns the recent detention by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers of an immigrant transgender woman and victim of domestic violence who was in court seeking a protection order from her abusive partner in El Paso, Texas. This was made worse by the fact that, according to news reports of the incident, ICE officers appear to have been tipped off to her whereabouts by her abuser. This arrest sets a dangerous precedent and creates a chilling effect for all immigrant survivors of sexual and domestic violence, further marginalizing them as they consider reaching out to law enforcement or the courts to seek help.

For transgender women, who experience disproportionately higher rates of domestic violence, and often experience discrimination and violence when attempting to access services, this injustice is life-threatening. Transgender women too often experience sexual violence, maltreatment, and other forms of violence while in detention facilities. Because of these realities, this arrest and detainment is an utterly deplorable and harmful response to her request for help.

Perpetrators of domestic violence use a wide range of abusive behaviors to try to control their partners and prevent them from seeking help. In the case of immigrant and undocumented survivors, abusers often exploit their immigration status as a tool of control, threatening to report them to ICE, to have them deported, and to separate them from their children. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), originally passed in 1994 and most recently reauthorized in 2013, recognizes the acute challenges faced by immigrant and undocumented survivors and provides important protections for them to come forward to be able to seek safety and to hold perpetrators accountable. This includes VAWA provisions to protect the confidentiality of immigrant victims and prevent ICE from engaging in enforcement actions in sensitive locations, such as a courthouse where a victim is seeking an order of protection, and to prevent them from doing so based on information furnished by an abuser. These provisions recognize that abusers leverage victims’ fear of ICE to prevent victims from seeking help, and seek to prevent ICE from being a tool of abuse. The most recent re-authorization of VAWA, also included nondiscrimination protections for LGBT survivors.

The NTF is gravely concerned that the case in El Paso will have a chilling impact on immigrant survivors of violence, forcing them to stay with abusive partners and endure increased violence out of fear of deportation. Furthermore, recent Executive Orders calling for increased law enforcement involvement in deportation efforts will further drive immigrant victims and witnesses into the shadows. This only reinforces the power dynamic of abusers and undermines public safety.

The NTF calls on Congressional leaders to stand up for immigrant victims of domestic and sexual violence and condemn ICE’s unconscionable role in undermining VAWA protections and reducing the ability of immigrant victims to seek safety.

For more information, please contact Grace Huang, Asian Pacific Institute on
Gender-Based Violence, at ghuang@api-gbv.org, Rosie Hidalgo, Casa De Esperanza,
at rhidalgo@casadeesperanza.org, or Terra Slavin, Los Angeles LGBT Center, at

Statement of the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence in Opposition to the January 2017 Executive Immigration Actions

The National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence (“NTF”), comprised of national leadership organizations advocating on behalf of sexual and domestic violence victims and women’s rights, strongly opposes President Trump’s January executive orders relating to immigrants and refugees. These executive orders endanger the safety of victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and human trafficking, their families, and communities at large, further isolate victims, and erect barriers to established legal protections for victims.

Limiting Refugee Admissions: Barring Refugees and Visa Holders Based on Country of
Origin or Religion Will Leave Those Fleeing Gender-Based Violence Without Protection

The executive order suspending and limiting refugee admissions blocks countless women and
children from obtaining the refuge they need to avoid and escape violence, including trafficking, rape, and other forms of gender-based violence. The order claims that one aim of barring refugees and individuals from majority-Muslim nations is to reduce violence against women. We object to this counterproductive claim, as the order actually harms those that it professes to protect. During conflict, when women and children attempt to remain in their country or settle in refugee camps, they are particularly vulnerable to sexual assault, trafficking, and unwanted pregnancies. For example, a significant percentage of Syrian refugees are women fleeing with their children due to violence perpetrated against them. It is well documented that at the hands of ISIS, women and children have suffered from widespread gender-based violence, including kidnapping, systematic rape, enslavement, trafficking, stoning, beheading, and sexual harassment and assault.

Furthermore, targeting seven designated Muslim-majority countries by denying entry for
individuals from Somalia, Libya, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Sudan not only harms those left
stranded outside the U.S., it also sends the message that victims, including U.S. citizens and their children with backgrounds from Muslim-majority countries do not merit protection from abuse. We are concerned that the executive order attempts to exclude a variety of people on the basis of their religious beliefs in order to legitimize the ban on the admission of Muslim people. We denounce any and all attempts to pit groups against each other on the basis of race, sex, religious beliefs, gender identity or sexual orientation.

Interior Enforcement: The Executive Orders Undermine Critical Tools for Community Safety
and Threaten Access to Vital Services

Punishing jurisdictions that provide “sanctuary” to immigrants is short-sighted and ineffective.
The order’s demand that local police engage in immigration enforcement activities undermines
community trust and will force vulnerable victims deeper into the shadows. Most violent and
property crimes in the U.S. are committed by native-born citizens — not immigrantsImmigrant
already fear contacting the police, and this order only exacerbates this fear. Abusers and traffickers use their victims’ fear of deportation—their own, their children’s or other family
members’—as a tool to silence and trap them. As a result, perpetrators will be able to continue to harm others, both immigrant and U.S. Citizen victims alike.

Additionally, withholding funds to sanctuary cities will cut off vital programs and services that
support the survival and health of our most vulnerable populations, U.S Citizens and immigrants alike, including: people who are homeless, people with mental illness, people living with HIV/AIDS, victims of domestic and sexual violence, and others. The order will jeopardize
victims; is not grounded in evidence; will jeopardize victims of sexual and domestic violence;
and will undermine basic services like housing, health care, education, and other critical services that support the well-being of our broader communities.

Interior Enforcement: The Order’s Enforcement Priorities Will Harm Victims of Trafficking,
Sexual Assault, and Domestic Violence

The executive order directing that fines and penalties be collected from those facilitating the
presence of those who are unlawfully present will potentially put victims at risk by discouraging humanitarian assistance to those who have been harmed. The order is so broad that providing shelter or transportation for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or trafficking may subject victim services providers to penalty. In addition, prioritizing the removal of those who have not even been convicted of a crime will jeopardize the safety of victims who have not had the opportunity for the court system to evaluate and rule on mitigating or exonerating circumstances. Immigrant victims, who are vulnerable, due to language and cultural barriers, to being arrested and prosecuted for crimes directly connected to their victimization will be prioritized for deportation before they can access services and established protections, e.g., legal protections under the Violence Against Women Act or other humanitarian immigration relief.

Interior Enforcement: Weakening Privacy Act Protections Will Endanger Victims

Victims who are seeking immigration relief to establish their independence from their
perpetrators face heightened danger from their perpetrators. The executive order directs federal agencies to exclude immigrants from the protections of the Privacy Act, which will jeopardize the confidentiality of victims of sexual and domestic violence and human trafficking and expose them to increased risk of harm from their perpetrators.

Border Security: Rescinding Parole Authority Will Harm Victims

Due to lengthy processing times for immigration protections for victims under the Violence
Against Women Act, victims and their children often face several-year long waits for
reunification. Eliminating uniform policies and procedures that allow dependents or parents to be paroled into the United States for reunification while victims’ cases are processed exacerbates trauma and exposes family members to harm abroad.

Pending Executive Actions

The NTF opposes any actions that will reduce access to protections and critical supports for
immigrants seeking safety or in the United States. Proposals rescinding Deferred Action for
Childhood Arrivals (DACA), rescinding access to employment authorization for spouses of nonimmigrant visa-holders, and limiting access to economic supports such as means-tested public benefits will increase the vulnerability of hundreds of thousands of individuals to abuse and exploitation. Abusive partners, opportunistic predators, and manipulative employers often target undocumented individuals for exploitation, as they know threats to have them deported will help keep victims silent. For those who do have legal immigration status, including those who are dependent on their spouses’ non-immigrant visas, access to economic supports is often critical to escape and recover from abuse. Increasing barriers to those economic supports, including the disqualification for employment authorization, or requiring reimbursement from abusive sponsors, will keep victims trapped without recourse.

For more information, please contact:
Grace Huang, Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, at ghuang@api-gbv.org
Qudsia Raja, National Domestic Violence Hotline, qraja@ndvh.org or
Terri Poore, National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, terri@endsexualviolence.org.

Action Alert: Urge Your Senators to Oppose Jeff Sessions' Confirmation as Attorney General


Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama), President-elect Trump's nominee for Attorney General, had the opportunity last week to appear in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee to convince the Committee and the American people that he can be trusted to serve as the nation's chief law enforcement officer.  

He failed.  

Senator Sessions failed to convince us that he will enforce the law for all victims, he failed to convince us that he will defend ALL of VAWA, and he failed to convince us that he will protect marginalized communities -- disqualifying him from the position of the nation's top law enforcement official.  

Although, after repeated questions from Senator Leahy, Senator Sessions admitted that grabbing women's genitalia without their consent is sexual assault, he failed to convince us that he understood the consequences of his previous statement to the contrary.  When asked specifically about President-elect Trump's self-described actions, Senator Sessions' response that "the President is subject to certain lawful restrictions" was wholly inadequate.  Sexual assault is far more serious than a transgression of an unspecified "lawful restriction."  It is a crime, pure and simple!  

What You Can Do About It


Call your Senators and urge them to vote against Senator Sessions' confirmation!  

Tell them: 

  • Senator Sessions is not qualified to be our top legal advocate for victims

  • He did not tell the Judiciary Committee he would enforce the law for all victims. His past comments suggesting that women and LGBT persons do not experience enough discrimination to warrant protection under the law suggests that his enforcement may be selective.

  • Senator Sessions said during the hearing, in response to Senator Leahy's explanation of the high rates of victimization on tribal lands, that the provisions recognizing tribal jurisdiction "should not have been attached to VAWA. As to enforcing that part of VAWA, Senator Sessions said, "I didn't support that provision. I would have to make a legal decision as to how that provision works." When asked if he would defend tribal jurisdiction in court, he replied that he would "defend the statute if it's reasonably defensible." His answer makes it clear that he would not commit to protect Native victims of domestic and sexual violence. 
  • Senator Sessions said in the past that he didn't see that the LGBT population as experiencing discrimination, and so he refused to support the Hate Crimes Act. When asked why he voted against the Hate Crimes Act, Senator Sessions responded: "It is better to study [the issue]."
  • Senator Sessions was rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1986 for a federal judgeship due to a long record of racist statements and differential application of the law.  As Representative John Lewis said in Senator Sessions' confirmation hearing for Attorney General, "It doesn't matter how Senator Sessions may smile, how friendly he may be, how he may speak to you.  We need someone who is going to stand up, to speak up, and speak out for the people that need help."  Actions speak louder than words, and Senator Sessions' prosecutorial and legislative history speak loudly and clearly!
  • Senator Sessions has a long history of promoting bills and policies that keep immigrant victims and survivors in the shadows, making communities less safe and creating barriers to access to services.

Please call and/or send a message to your Senators, urging them to oppose Jeff Sessions' confirmation as Attorney General.  

Tools and Resources

Social media posts are also a great way to make your views known.  Below are a sample script, Tweets and Facebook posts. Be sure to say you are a constituent!  The hashtag for this effort is #StopSessions.  Find your Senators' Twitter handles here.

Call (877) 959-6082 to be connected to your Senators or find your Senators and their contact information here.  

Sample script: My name is [your name] and I am calling from [your location and, if applicable, your organization].  I oppose Senator Sessions' confirmation as Attorney General.  His comment about sexual assault, his prosecutorial history of differential application of the law, his opposition to VAWA 2013, his promotion of policies that harm immigrant victims and survivors, and his opposition to LGBTQ rights disqualify him from this position. Senator Sessions is not qualified to be our top legal advocate for victims.

Sample Facebook Post: I oppose Senator Sessions' confirmation as Attorney General.  His real or feigned ignorance about sexual assault, his prosecutorial history of differential application of the law, his opposition to VAWA 2013, his promotion of policies that harm immigrant victims and survivors, and his opposition to LGBTQ rights disqualify him from this position. Senator Sessions is not qualified to be our top victim advocate.

Sample Tweets:
[Senator's Twitter Handle] Sen. Sessions is not qualified to be our top victim advocate. #StopSessions
[Senator's Twitter Handle] Sen. Sessions' minimization of sexual assault makes him unfit for Attorney General #StopSessions
[Senator's Twitter Handle] Sen. Sessions opposed VAWA 2013 and cannot be trusted to implement and enforce it #StopSessions
[Senator's Twitter Handle] Sen. Sessions opposed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 2013; we can't trust him to protect survivors as AG #StopSessions

Additional Reading

NTF letter to Senate Judiciary Committee

See how Senators voted for the 2013 VAWA reauthorization 

Red-state Democrats turn against Sessions for AG: Several of them cite his opposition to domestic violence legislation four years ago

Sessions is unqualified to be nation's leading victim advocate

Jeff Sessions is a threat to all vulnerable Americans

Open Letter to the Judiciary Committee Regarding Senator Jeff Sessions' Nomination

Dear Member of the Judiciary Committee:

We, the steering committee of the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence (NTF), a coalition of national, tribal, state, and local leadership organizations and individuals advocating on behalf of victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking, write to express our opposition to Senator Jeff Sessions’ nomination for Attorney General of the United States of America. We have arrived at this position based upon a review of his record as a state and federal prosecutor, during which he applied the law unevenly, and as a U.S. Senator, during which he supported laws that would afford only some members of our society equal protection of the law. The role of Attorney General requires a demonstrated commitment to providing equal protection under the law—particularly to people who face discrimination because of their race, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability or other identities. We respectfully submit that Senator Sessions’ record speaks for itself and that his history of differential application of the law carries with it the potential to harm victims and survivors of gender-based violence, particularly survivors from historically marginalized communities. Thirty years ago, this Committee rejected Senator Sessions’ nomination to the federal bench due to well-justified concerns regarding his problematic record on civil rights and troubling history of making racially insensitive statements. These aforementioned concerns, combined with his equally troubling comments on the nature of sexual assault and other concerns raised below, make Senator Sessions an unqualified choice to serve as U.S. Attorney General.  

The position of Attorney General of the United States of America, created by the Judiciary Act of 1789, bears the responsibility of representing the United States in all legal matters in which the country has an interest.[1] Chief among those interests is the affording of equal protection under our criminal, civil and civil rights laws to all members of our society. Under 28 U.S.C. §503, the President’s appointment of an Attorney General must be with the “advice and consent of the Senate.” The process ensures that the person holding the post of Attorney General is one fit for such duty, a person with the intellectual, moral and steadfast ethical capacity to uphold the laws and interests of the United States and to apply the laws equally to all members of society.  

Failure to Speak Up for Victims of Violence and Discrimination

A threshold qualification for the position of Attorney General is a deep understanding of the laws s/he is sworn to uphold. Of critical relevance are Senator Sessions’ recent comments on the nature of sexual assault in response to the release of a 2005 video in which President-Elect Donald Trump describes grabbing women’s genitalia without their consent. When asked whether he would characterize the behavior described by President-elect Trump as sexual assault, Senator Sessions responded, “I don’t characterize that as sexual assault. I think that’s a stretch. I don’t know what he meant --.”[2] Federal statutes enacted prior to Senator Sessions’ tenure as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama criminalize “abusive sexual conduct.”[3] The applicable definition for conduct prohibited by 18 U.S.C. §2244 is clearly stated: “the intentional touching, either directly or through the clothing, of the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks of any person with an intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, degrade, or arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person.”[4] Thus, the Senator is either unaware that abusive sexual contact is illegal under federal law, or he feigned ignorance of the laws he was sworn to uphold as an officer of the court for the sake of political expedience.

The Department of Justice has the exclusive authority to enforce the United States’ criminal statutes, including 18 U.S.C. §2244. The Department of Justice also has exclusive jurisdiction over the prosecution of domestic and sexual violence in the District of Columbia[5], most sexual assaults perpetrated in Indian Country, and concurrent jurisdiction over domestic violence offenses committed in Indian Country. Any candidate for Attorney General of the United States, particularly a former U.S. Attorney, should possess a thorough understanding of the legal definition of sexual assault under federal law and under the laws of the jurisdictions in which the Office of the U.S. Attorney has prosecutorial responsibility. The National Task Force has worked collectively for decades to ensure that legal definitions in the U.S. Code and under state and local laws make it absolutely clear that sexual assault is a crime. The job of the Attorney General is to enforce the law without fear or favor. Thus, we expect the Attorney General to enforce federal laws addressing sexual assault without introducing nonexistent ambiguity, because of the perpetrator’s identity. Senator Sessions’ cavalier statement about sexual assault leaves us fearful that he will not vigorously prosecute sexual assault crimes, a practice unbefitting of the nation’s chief law enforcement officer.  

Additionally, Senator Sessions’ poor history with respect to fighting for fairness and equity has us justifiably concerned that he will not step in to vindicate the rights of survivors of campus sexual assault and other victims of discrimination. The Justice Department has jurisdiction to enforce a myriad of civil rights statutes, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964[6] and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972[7]. These statutes bar discrimination in education based on race, color and national origin and sex (respectively) by educational institutions that receive federal funding.[8] On college and university campuses alone, we know that 20 percent of women are victimized by sexual assault.[9] Absent an Attorney General’s commitment to ensuring that educational institutions root out bias and violence and hold perpetrators accountable, victims of discrimination, harassment or violence based on sex, race and/or national origin will be unable to pursue their education in an atmosphere of educational equity. Teachers surveyed since the election have described thousands of incidents of “bigotry and harassment,” stemming from incidents involving “racist, xenophobic or misogynistic comments,” and/or “derogatory language directed at students of color, Muslims, immigrants, and people based on gender or sexual orientation.”[10] It is imperative that the person nominated to the position of Attorney General possess a demonstrated record of work and support for these impacted communities, including people of color, immigrants, Muslims and religious minorities, members of the LGBT community, and people with disabilities.  

Regrettably, Senator Sessions’ career is replete with actions taken and statements made in opposition to equitable educational access. While Attorney General of Alabama, Senator Sessions fought equitable educational access for poor, minority and disabled students in Alabama even after being ordered by a federal court to remedy the yawning financial disparities between Alabama’s richest (and whitest) and poorest school districts.[11] Additionally, his mischaracterization of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act as creating “special treatment for certain children,” and being responsible for “accelerating the decline of civility and discipline in classrooms across America,” is appalling.[12] In light of these remarks, we are concerned not only about the Senator’s willingness to use the civil rights statutes to protect survivors of both campus sexual assault and other forms of harassment and violence in the education context, but also his commitment to ensuring equal access and safety under certain programs in the Violence Against Women Act for victims of sexual and domestic violence who have disabilities.

Fair Application of Law

We have additional concerns regarding the Attorney General’s role with respect to the fair, even and unbiased application of the law. Victims and survivors come from all racial or ethnic backgrounds, faith practices, sexual orientations, and gender identities: 33.5% of multiracial women have been raped, as have 27% of American Indian and Alaska Native women, 15% of Hispanic, 22% of Black, and 19% of White women.[13] Additionally, 53.8% of multiracial women and 39.3% of multiracial men experience intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner sexual violence and/or intimate partner stalking in their lifetimes, as do 46.0% of American Indian and Alaska Native women, 45.3% of American Indian and Alaska Native men, 19.6% of Asian and Pacific Islander women (data for Asian and Pacific Islander men is not available), 43.7% of Black women, 38.6% of Black men, 37.1% of Hispanic women, 26.6% of Hispanic men, 34.6% of White women and 28.2% of White men.[14] We know firsthand that many survivors from vulnerable populations hesitate to contact law enforcement or do not trust the court system to address their victimization because they fear, based on prior experience, that any justice system response may not help them. We expect anyone who serves as Attorney General to create a Justice Department accessible to all; the 5th and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution demand no less.

Senator Sessions’ well-documented prosecutorial record[15], as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama and as Attorney General for the State of Alabama, demonstrate his propensity to inequitably apply the law to the disadvantage of historically marginalized populations. Senator Sessions’ history leads us to question whether he will vigorously seek to ensure that all victims and survivors of gender-based violence, particularly vulnerable populations and those at the margins of society, have access to vitally needed services and legal protections.

Senator Sessions’ Opposition to Protections for the Immigrant and LGBT Communities

We are concerned that the positions that Senator Sessions has taken on immigration and LGBT individuals pose grave threats to vulnerable victims of gender-based violence. His consistent support of immigration policies that increase the barriers to safety for undocumented victims of sexual and domestic violence victims pushes immigrant victims further into the shadows and harms families and communities by allowing perpetrators (batterers and rapists) to abuse, traffic and assault with impunity. During the consideration of two major comprehensive immigration reform bills, as well on various other occasions, Senator Sessions has sponsored amendments and stand-alone legislation to limit the availability of critical safety net assistance for immigrants and increase barriers to protections from abuse and exploitation by penalizing local jurisdictions that fail to engage in immigration enforcement activities. He has made no subsequent statement that indicates that he would rethink these punitive policy positions were he to be confirmed.

His failure to support, and sometimes active opposition to, progress and protections for the LGBT community leave us gravely concerned that if confirmed, he would not stand up for the rights of the LGBT community generally, and particularly with respect to LGBT victims of violence. He opposed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which is of particular concern as we witness a spike in harassment of minorities and bias crimes over the last several months. Additionally, he supported a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. He also opposed the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” Senator Sessions’ record sends the message to marginalized survivors that their experiences will not be understood, nor will their rights be protected, if he is confirmed as the Attorney General.

Opposition to the Violence Against Women Act

We are also concerned that the nominee voted against the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Reauthorization of 2013. Seventy-eight out of one hundred senators supported the bipartisan bill; Senator Sessions was in the distinct minority. The 2013 Act addresses the gaps in law that were uncovered through outreach to and surveys of programs and service providers and domestic and sexual violence victims themselves.

Our analysis revealed that many survivors were not able to access services and justice to the extent they needed. Of particular note, we found that LGBT survivors often lacked access to justice and support based on their gender identity or their sexual orientation. We also learned of the deplorable lack of access to justice faced by survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault on tribal lands. VAWA 2013 included provisions that removed one of many barriers that prevent access to justice for American Indian and Alaska Native domestic violence survivors. The 2013 statute’s provisions expand and ensure that immigrant survivors can access VAWA protections, allowing survivors to come out of the shadows, help hold batterers and abusers accountable, and enable law enforcement to protect community safety. VAWA 2013’s goal of ensuring equal protection of the law was rejected by Senator Sessions, who cast the bill’s advancements toward inclusion and equal protection as political maneuvering and, in that light, voted against the bill. The Attorney General is tasked with ensuring that VAWA’s protection and programs are available and accessible to all. Senator Sessions’ opposition to the VAWA protections and his prosecutorial record leave us gravely concerned that he would not vigorously or consistently apply these protections.


The 14th Amendment provides the inalienable right that every person receive equal protection under the law.[16] Senator Sessions’ senate record of strenuous objection to protections for historically marginalized populations, coupled with his record of selective prosecutions, demonstrate his unwillingness to protect marginalized victims’ access to justice and disqualify him from holding the position of Attorney General of the United States, a position charged with the responsibility of securing justice for all. Selective application of the law and outward hostility towards victims of sexual and domestic violence in historically marginalized populations has a chilling effect on their willingness and ability to seek services and protection. It drives sexual violence, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking underground, something we have made great strides to avoid. The Attorney General of the United States must be an individual committed to protecting the inalienable right of equal protection under the law to all within United States’ jurisdiction. Moreover, his minimizing comments about the nature of sexual assault call into question his dedication to enforcing the law and providing justice to victims of this serious crime.

In short, we oppose Senator Sessions’ confirmation as Attorney General of the United States and we ask you, as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to ask him direct questions regarding the concerns raised in this letter, and to advise the President, pursuant to the prescription of 28 U.S.C. §503, that Senator Sessions’ is unqualified to hold this post.

Yours truly,

The National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence


[1] See 28 U.S.C.§§ 516, 519.

[2] The Weekly Standard, “Jeff Sessions: Behavior Described by Trump in ‘Grab Them By the P---y’ Tape Isn’t Sexual Assault,” (October 10, 2016). Retrieved from http://www.weeklystandard.com/jeff-sessions-behavior-described-by-trump-in-grab-them-by-the-p-y-tape-isnt-sexual-assault/article/2004799?custom_click=rss

[3] 18 U.S.C. §2244.

[4] 18 U.S.C. §2246(3).

[5] Within the District of Columbia, §22-3001(9) defines sexual contact, applicable to the sexual abuse statutes §22-3002 through 22-3006, as “the touching with any clothed or unclothed body part or any object, either directly or through the clothing, of the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks of any person with an intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, degrade, or arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person.”

[6] 42 U.S.C. §2000d

[7] 20 U.S.C. §1681

[8] See 34 C.F.R. §100.8 (permits a failure to comply with Title VI that cannot be resolved informally to be referred to the Department of Justice for enforcement); 28 C.F.R. §54.605 (which adopt the investigative, compliance and enforcement provisions of Title VI for application to Title IX).

[9] Fisher, B.S., Cullen, F.T., & Turner, M.G. (2000) The Sexual Victimization of College Women:  National Institute of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

[10] New York Magazine, “Ninety Percent of Teachers Say Trump’s Win Has Had a Negative Effect in Classrooms,” (November 29, 2016) Retrieved from http://nymag.com/thecut/2016/11/90-percent-of-teachers-say-trumps-win-is-bad-for-students.html

[11] New York Times, “Jeff Sessions’ Other Civil Rights Problem, (November 21, 2016), Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/21/opinion/jeff-sessions-other-civil-rights-problem.html?_r=0

[12] See http://www.sessions.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2000/5/education-discipline-and-idea-

[13] Black, M.C., Basile, K.C., Breiding, M.J., Smith, S.G., Walters, M.L., Merrick, M.T., Chen, J., & Stevens, M.R. (2011). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Summary Report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

[14] Ibid.

[15] See transcript of the 1986 Senate Judiciary hearing on the nomination of Jeff Sessions for US District Court Judge for the Southern District of Alabama

[16] U.S. Const. amend. XIV §1; U.S. Const. amend. V; Bolling v. Sharpe, 347 U.S. 497 (1954).

Action Alert: Ask Your Senators to Support Strong and Sustained Funding for Domestic and Sexual Violence Services

What's Happening in Congress Right Now

Every year, Congress is supposed to pass a budget to fund the federal government and vital grant programs such as VAWA, FVPSA and VOCA.  Instead of passing a budget this year, Congress is contemplating passing a continuing resolution (CR), which funds the federal government at its current level for a short period.  

It is imperative that funding decisions are finalized to ensure survivors can continue to access life-saving services. A CR can create undue delay, confusion, and an interruption of essential services, putting survivors at serious risk.  An omnibus appropriations bill, which funds all federal programs for the upcoming fiscal year, ensures a steady funding stream and a continuation of vital services.

What You Can Do About It

Call Senate leadership and tell them to pass an omnibus bill!  Tell them:

  • An omnibus budget is vital to ensure victims and survivors’ safety and access to services;

  • Thousands of victims and survivors of gender-based violence are turned away from services daily due to lack of resources – a continuing resolution will only exacerbate this problem; and

  • The omnibus should include a VOCA tribal funding stream reflecting that in both House and Senate Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bills.

Tools and Resources

Find your Senators’ phone numbers here.

Sample telephone script: Hello, my name is [your name], and I am calling from [your city and/or organization].  I am calling to tell [your Senator’s name] that Congress needs to pass an omnibus appropriations bill to ensure victims and survivors of gender-based violence have access to essential, life-saving services.  The omnibus should include the tribal funding stream from VOCA that was in both the House and Senate Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bills.  An omnibus is essential for victims and survivors’ safety and wellbeing.

Find your Senators’ Twitter handles here:

Sample Tweet: .@YourSenatorsHandle, a CR puts victims and survivors of gender-based violence at risk. Pass an #omnibus! #EndVAW

Sample Facebook Post:  Congress needs to pass an omnibus appropriations bill to ensure victims and survivors of gender-based violence have access to essential, life-saving services.  The omnibus should include the tribal funding stream from VOCA that was in both the House and Senate Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bills to ensure all victims and survivors can access services and stay safe.

We Don’t Do This Work Because It’s Easy. We Do It Because We Must.

We don't do this work because it's easy.

It never has been, and as we’re all digesting the results of the election and its implications, we realize that the coming years will challenge us in ways that we have not been before as individuals, as communities, as service providers, as advocates, and as a movement to end sexual and domestic violence. That’s ok. We’ll get through it. We always have. 

We don’t do this work because it’s easy. And now more than ever, the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence (NTF) is committed to ensuring that we center survivors of sexual and domestic violence and their needs in the policies we advocate for.  We are especially concerned that survivors of color, survivors who are immigrants, LGBTQ survivors, Native American survivors, survivors of faith, survivors with disabilities--all survivors who are vulnerable to the additional burdens of discrimination and lack of access--have the collective voice of the NTF amplifying their needs. We all need to stand together, and we will.

We realize that this may feel like a time of great uncertainty. It is. Take the time you need to reflect and care for yourself, those you serve, and those you work with. And then let’s transform that uncertainty into an opportunity to build.

We don’t do this work because it’s easy. We do it because we must. We hope you’ll join us. 

The National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence.

Click here to download a copy of this statement.