Padilla, Sullivan Seek to Expand Legal Representation for Survivors of Violence

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senators Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) introduced S. 3124, the Ensuring Representation for Survivors Act, legislation that works to ensure that all survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault have access to free legal representation, if they need it. Studies have shown that when survivors are represented by an attorney, their ability to break out of the cycle of violence increases dramatically.

“Survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence should never have their voices silenced, but too often, they face significant barriers to legal representation,” said Senator Padilla. “Representation is essential: when survivors have access to an attorney, they are more than twice as likely to win their cases. As we approach the end of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I’m proud to join Senator Sullivan in continuing our bipartisan efforts to ensure these survivors have their voices heard in the court of law.”

“Too often, domestic and sexual violence survivors can’t afford lawyers. This is just wrong, especially when perpetrators enjoy a Sixth Amendment constitutional right to counsel. And it’s bad policy,” said Senator Sullivan. “When survivors have a lawyer, their ability to break out of the cycle of violence increases dramatically. In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I’ve reintroduced the Ensuring Representation for Survivors Act with Senator Padilla to make sure the legal needs of survivors are met. This bill is the third pillar of my three-part Choose Respect legislative initiative. This is one of the most important initiatives I’ve worked on during my years as a senator and I’ll continue to work relentlessly to try to break this cycle of abuse and violence.”

The Ensuring Representation for Survivors Act expands and improves the Legal Assistance for Victims grant program, managed by the Office of Violence Against Women. Specifically, the bill:

  • Increases the authorized amount of the grant program to $80 million. 
  • Allows states to receive and distribute a designated percentage of total grant funding to implement, expand, and establish advocacy efforts, including through pro bono representation. The legal support provided can include asserting a victim’s rights in a criminal proceeding, obtaining a protective order, and support in related civil proceedings, like divorce, custody, housing or health care.

Full text of the bill is available here.