Department of Justice Seal
Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
at the 10th Anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act Symposium
September 13, 2004

(Note: The Attorney General often deviates from prepared remarks.)

Thank you, Kellie [Greene].

I also thank Diane Stuart for her commitment and leadership as the Director of the Office on Violence Against Women. Diane and her staff have strengthened our nation’s response to the crimes of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking, and for that we are enormously grateful.

Welcome to this symposium, where we are marking the tenth anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act. We are also honoring those who have overcome the fear and pain of violence, while also paying tribute to those dedicated to serving victims and achieving justice. I am honored to be here with you; this is an issue I have focused on for many years.

In 1983, as Missouri’s Attorney General, it was my privilege to serve on then-Attorney General William French Smith’s Task Force on Family Violence, which laid the foundation for the Violence Against Women Act. Later, I was an original co-sponsor in the Senate of the Violence Against Women Act of 2000.

As Attorney General, it has been gratifying to work with you and to build on that important statute by expanding the role of the Office on Violence Against Women within the Department of Justice. For the first time, the Office on Violence Against Women is not a bureau of the Office of Justice Programs. Rather, it is a stand-alone office, headed by a presidentially appointed and Senate-confirmed director, reporting to the Attorney General.

Together, we have accomplished much in the ten years since the passage of the Violence Against Women Act.

This is not merely an impression or an opinion, but an accomplishment for which we all can be grateful. Today, the Bureau of Justice Statistics is reporting that over the past 10 years, the rate of domestic violence has declined 59 percent.

In 1993, there were one million, two hundred thousand victims of domestic violence. Last year, there were four hundred ninety eight thousand victims of domestic violence. This is a precipitous drop.

But we must look beyond the statistics and consider the people who have been spared the physical brutality and the psychological pain of rape, assault and abuse. Because of our efforts, more than seven hundred thousand women- wives, girlfriends, daughters, and friends - were spared the pain and fear domestic violence engenders.

These are dramatic changes by any measure. But because we recognize the human suffering behind each statistic - because, as President Bush has said, one victim of violence is one too many - we must continue to focus on crimes of violence against women.

Violent crimes are like ripples on a pond after a stone has been thrown. The effect of violence on a victim is devastating, but the impact of violence can be just as dramatic for husbands, children, parents, and the communities they live in.

How a community responds to these acts of brutality speaks to the values it holds. Each of you plays a critical role in preserving the values that define our society. You defend freedom. You cherish equality before the law. You honor human dignity. The work you do is critical, because we have seen what can happen in the absence of those values.

Three years ago, the women of Afghanistan were prohibited from working outside the home. They were barred from schools. They were barred from expressing an opinion in public.

In Afghanistan, the windows of homes were required to be blacked so the women could not be seen - and the women could not see the outside world. When women were allowed outside, it was only in the company of a man and, even then, a woman could be arrested for making noise with her shoes.

Today, the lives of women in Afghanistan are being transformed. Every day, we hear inspiring stories of women not only gaining an education, but teaching young people, boys and girls, in schools. In the upcoming elections more than 4 million women are registered to vote.

For years, the women of Afghanistan lived in a land where the values we cherish and defend were brutally denied. Today, they live in a land of greater freedom and human dignity. Today, the women of Afghanistan are emerging as participants in their society rather than the victims of their society.

What the United States has helped to bring to Afghanistan, you have been doing for victims of violent crime here at home.

The work you undertake across America ensures that the values of freedom, justice and human dignity are defended and protected. The work you do ensures that women who have been raped, assaulted, or stalked will have the opportunity to again take control of their circumstances, to take control of their lives.

In communities across our land, law enforcement, prosecutors, the courts, victims’ advocates, and service providers are working together, building comprehensive efforts to protect victims of violence, to hold abusers accountable for their actions and, most importantly, we are working together to prevent such crimes from ever taking place.

The Violence Against Women Act comes up for reauthorization by Congress next year. Congress should not delay. The Act must be renewed if we are to continue to combat violence against women through law enforcement and coordinated, community-based programs that are making a difference in victims’ lives.

President Bush’s Family Justice Center Initiative embodies the core values of a coordinated community response to violence against women. These centers draw together professionals and volunteers to provide under one roof an array of services for a victim of violence.

A victim can get a restraining order, undergo a forensic exam, obtain legal advice, speak with a chaplain, and meet with a victim advocate, all at one location. Through this initiative, unveiled in October 2003, more than $20 million has been awarded to 15 communities to prevent and respond to violence against women.

Last summer, in June 2003, a woman named Rosie, who was a legal immigrant to the United States, visited the Family Justice Center in San Diego. Her boyfriend had been arrested for domestic violence.

Through the Family Justice Center, Rosie spoke with an advocate who explained how the criminal justice system would work. She met with a chaplain who provided her with spiritual support. She obtained counseling services and legal assistance, which helped her assist in the prosecution of her assailant. Today, Rosie is working full-time as a front desk clerk at a hotel, while also volunteering at the Family Justice Center.

The Family Justice Centers are founded on the belief that everyone in a community has something to offer to their neighbor in need.

In addition to meeting the immediate, as well as the long- term needs of the victims of violence and abuse, we are ensuring that rapists, batterers and stalkers are punished for their crimes. The number of federal criminal cases filed under the Violence Against Women Act increased more than 100 percent between 1999 and 2003.

We have strengthened federal penalties for repeat sex offenders, and required states to enforce protection orders issued by other jurisdictions. To date, the Justice Department has prosecuted more than 1,600 cases against some of the most dangerous and determined abusers - individuals who pursue aggressively their victims across state lines.

The Justice Department is also committed to helping state and local law enforcement use every tool possible to solve violent crimes and protect the innocent.

In March 2003, I had the privilege of announcing President Bush’s "Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology" initiative. This effort commits one billion dollars over five years to expand and strengthen as never before the use of DNA technology in the criminal justice system.

The DNA initiative is providing the resources to reduce the backlog of unanalyzed DNA samples, particularly those in cases of rape and sexual assault. The initiative is also providing intensive training on the use of DNA for law enforcement officials, victims’ advocates and medical personnel.

The “Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology Initiative” sends a clear message to rapists and abusers: Science is on the side of justice. When you commit a violent crime, you leave traces of yourself behind. We will use these traces to find you and to prosecute you. Justice will be done.

But our ability to prosecute successfully these cases is only as good as the evidence collected. So today I am announcing the release of the first protocol under the President’s DNA Initiative - the National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations.

This protocol will serve as a guide for nurses, doctors, forensic scientists, law enforcement, victim advocates, and prosecutors. It will ensure that evidence collection during sexual assault forensic exams is done consistently, accurately, and with the utmost compassion for the victim.

A recent evaluation funded by NIJ suggests that the use of nurses and others trained in sexual assault forensics enhances greatly both the quality of the DNA evidence collected and the quality of health care received by sexual assault victims.

I thank those of you who provided comments and clarifications to this protocol. Your assistance and insights helped ensure recommendations that will promote a uniformly high standard of care for all victims of sexual assault.

From the DNA initiative, to our Family Justice Centers, to our prosecution of the violent to the fullest extent of the law, as we gather to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act, we recognize the strides that we have made to change perceptions, practices, and policies on violence against women. And we realize that there is more to be done.

As we look toward the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, the Department of Justice supports the following programming enhancements, which we believe will strengthen our ability to help the victims of violence.

First, the justice system should not be a barrier to the health and recovery of a violent crime victim. The VAWA should be amended so that grantees of the Office of Violence Against Women protect the confidentiality of victims. Also, in order to receive VAWA funding, states should certify that - regardless of reimbursement by private insurance - forensic exam expenses will be covered.

Second, to enhance the availability of federal funds that help women crime victims, the VAWA should be amended so that all grant programs can address sexual assault in any context, not just in the context of domestic violence.

Third, to ensure that federal funds are available for the broadest range of violent crimes against women, the VAWA should be amended so that the Legal Assistance Program permits grantees to use funds to address violence in dating relationships in addition to domestic relationships.

These new policies will help us to reinforce the values that make our communities strong and free.

In 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt defined freedom from fear as one of our fundamental human rights. The defense of this fundamental right inspired the members of Roosevelt’s generation to defeat the grave threat of totalitarianism.

Today, we too are in an historic battle, defending the right to live in freedom from fear of terrorism. Around the world, we are defending what terrorism seeks to destroy: freedom, human dignity and justice. We are defending these values at home and expanding these values for people who have not known them for decades or even centuries.

These are battles you understand well. You are part of the army of the compassionate, defending the right to live free from the fear of violent crime, free from the humiliation of victimization, free from the degradation of abuse. You are changing lives, and with each act of service, you enhance human dignity. With each act of sacrifice, you serve justice. With each act of compassion, you defend freedom.

I thank you for your service and the sacrifices you make for the cause of justice.

Thank you very much.

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