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Opening Remarks by the Acting Associate Attorney General

to the National Advisory Council on the National Agenda

Tuesday, November 2, 1999



Good morning. On behalf of the Attorney General and myself, let me thank you and commend you for all of your hard work over the last year in developing an Agenda for the Nation on Violence Against Women. As some of you are aware, I am here today because Ray Fisher, Associate Attorney General for the last two years, was confirmed by the Senate as a Judge on the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and was sworn in by Justice O'Connor last Friday. Through Ray - and Laurie, Noel, Bonnie, and Alexa - I have already learned a great deal about the Agenda and its importance to the Department at this critical time.

I know how challenging it is to create such an Agenda and to choose priorities among so many urgent objectives. Because of the work that all of you have done throughout your careers to combat violence against women, you are uniquely situated to undertake this task and to give direction to our nation.

I want to extend particular thanks to Alana Bowman, Joan Kuriansky, and Susan Schechter, the chairs of the task forces, for their hard work over the last year. I applaud your commitment to this issue and the leadership you have provided. I also want to recognize Peggy McGarry and her staff at the Center for Effective Public Policy for their hard work. I am impressed with their ability to handle the demanding timeline and the extraordinary amount of information generated by this project. I also want to commend Bonnie Campbell and her staff at the Violence Against Women Office for their dedication to this very important work. Finally, our thanks to Secretary Shalala and Dr. Satchen for their leadership on these issues.

The Attorney General sends her regrets for being unable to attend today's session but she hopes to make at least part of the reception tonight and will be here tomorrow to discuss the Agenda with you. I know that she is also very grateful for your remarkable efforts.

I want to take a few moments to underscore for you why I believe this national call to action is so exciting and holds so much promise:

A year ago, Secretary Shalala and the Attorney General challenged you to come up with a national blueprint for action. The draft National Agenda you have created is both aspirational and practical. It offers a compelling vision of a society where social norms validate the safety and dignity of women, and concrete strategies for immediate action. Everyone has a role to play in combating violence against women, and it is so important to inspire people to use both their professional and personal lives to support the safety of women.

But it is also vitally important to give our communities a guide for action with concrete steps that can be taken immediately. Once we have energized our citizens, it is crucial to funnel those energies into strategies that we know are effective or that hold promise for lasting change. We need to be visionaries, but we also need to roll up our sleeves and do the difficult nuts-and-bolts work that undergirds these aspirations.

You have also highlighted the importance of disseminating promising practices. Too often, the creative and innovative work of our communities is not leveraged or magnified by spreading these ideas to other communities grappling with similar problems. We cannot afford to reinvent the wheel in every community when women and children continue to experience violence -- often lethal violence -- at such high levels.

I am also impressed by the comprehensive nature of the draft Agenda. You have designed strategies that foster the participation of all sectors of our society. For example, you have highlighted the role that businesses and workplaces can and must play in these efforts. For too long, the problem of violence against women has not been viewed as a workplace issue. Yet, we know that violence pervades every aspect of our lives. Businesses have a critical role to play in recognizing and rejecting violence in the workplace and creating policies and procedures that safeguard the welfare and confidentiality of victims.

Finally, I want to applaud the enhancement of linkages between the public health and criminal justice systems. Medical personnel play a pivotal role in combating domestic violence. Hospitals, clinics, and mental health services are often our first line of intervention. They are the institutions and individuals most likely to see women and children in the height of crisis. They must not only treat injuries but must also help to identify resources and support for victims and make appropriate referrals.

Health care professionals can also play crucial roles in helping to bring offenders to justice. By forging links with law enforcement officials, medical professionals can be trained on how to record the injuries they treat and the accounts of violence that they hear. Medical records can enhance amounts of the violence they have experienced. They can also permit prosecutions where the victim cannot participate in the prosecution of the perpetrator.

A critical byproduct of all these efforts is that we will increase access to services and support to so many isolated victims. You have underscored the great number of women who cannot -- or do not -- seek services. We must remember that despite all of our efforts, many institutional barriers exist to block the ability of victims to seek help. The window of opportunity for a victim to seek help can be so small -- we cannot squander our chance to offer assistance.

We also cannot know who will be the lifeline for a woman in danger - her doctor, a local librarian, a teacher at her children's school. The more that we can equip all of our citizens to understand and combat violence against women, the more likely we make it that when a woman reaches out for help, she will be met with compassionate, non-judgmental, competent assistance.

There is great potential for us to make both immediate and long-term differences in the struggle to end violence against women. I know that your hard work will save lives and enhance the safety of women and children throughout our nation.

These are just a few of my thoughts on this tremendous project. As you continue your deliberations over the next two days, I hope you will identify ways that the Department of Justice can work with you to achieve these goals. I know that the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs, Laurie Robinson, is very committed to supporting this process. I look forward to seeing the final product.

Throughout this process, it has been our privilege to work with the outstanding and dedicated staff of the Department of Health and Human Services. It is my pleasure to introduce their leader, somone who has achieved so much for the health and welfare of all our people, Donna Shalala.