Thank you. I know many of you were present last night at the candlelight ceremony we had a few blocks from here; I'm glad to be back with you again today. Last night was about remembering the victims and the survivors of crime and violence. It was about shining a light on the faces of those whom we have lost and those whose lives have been shattered by criminals and predators. We heard the moving words of Mark Lunsford, whose beautiful daughter Jessica was taken from him in a stunning moment of cruelty. And we remembered the victims at Virginia Tech, whose lives were taken from us so violently.
Today is also about remembering victims, but in a different way. Today we give thanks for, and to, the people who work every day to heal those who hurt, and to punish those who prey on the vulnerable. The individuals we honor today have themselves honored the victims of crime. The issue of victims' rights is, and should be, a top priority for the Department of Justice. Everyone in the Department, including me and the line prosecutors across the Nation, is committed to including victims as full participants in the criminal justice system.
After all, the stories and experiences of victims, and their families, and their advocates, is a big part of what motivates those of us in law enforcement. The courage and fortitude they show, in the face of overwhelming grief and loss, pushes us to work harder to make sure that those touched by crime are protected and comforted as much as possible, and that those who caused their suffering are brought to justice. Listening to Mark Lunsford last night, I realized that had his story been about one of my sons, I doubt I could stand up and tell that story. And of course telling the story is nothing, compared to actually living through the loss of a child at the hands of evil. I have similar thoughts when I hear the stories of so many of the people here and across the Nation.
So I am humbled when I see people who have suffered so much able to stand up and take action. It makes me even more determined to do whatever I can, too. When people like Mark dedicate themselves to preventing other families from experiencing the pain his family has experienced, it would be shameful for the Department of Justice not to be truly dedicated to the same goal.
We are dedicated to this cause, and I want to tell you about a few of the things we have been doing—often by working closely with the kind of leaders whose achievements we celebrate today.
We have worked hard to implement the landmark Crime Victims Rights Act through extensive training sessions for victim witness coordinators across the government. All new Assistant U.S. Attorneys across America now receive this training.
We enhanced the Federal Victim Notification System so that victims can be informed about their cases, including court dates and scheduled offender release information. The number of victim notifications sent out has tripled in the past two years, to a total of eight million in 2006.
And we created the Victim Ombudsman Office to ensure that we are doing our job properly for every victim, every time.
Congress has also given us the authority to pursue civil commitment of certain sex offenders who would pose a serious danger to others if released. And we're going to use that authority.
And we've made great strides on many important functions relating to the sex offender registry. Improving that registry, and giving the requirement to register some teeth, was a creative step that is going to help all of us protect America’s children.
One of the initiatives I am most proud of as Attorney General has been Project Safe Childhood -- our coordinated effort to combat sexual exploitation crimes against children. My wife, Becky, has joined me in this through her volunteer work with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Together we have met with countless families and advocates. We have seen too many photos of children who will never return home, and never grow up. When we talk with these families, their anguish and their pain become part of our hearts, and Becky and I feel a need to hold our sons just a little tighter and watch them for just a little longer before they fall asleep at night. And when I return to work the next day, I am renewed in my fight.
Today's award recipients are amazing people. Some have devoted themselves to aiding victims of human trafficking—victims who were smuggled into this country and held in slavery. Others protect victims of domestic violence. Still others have counseled victims, and guided them to the help they need. And others have worked closely with Congress and other elected officials to work for new laws and new rights.
Some of them have been victims themselves, or have felt the pain of losing a child, a sibling, or a spouse to a senseless crime. And others are just filled with compassion and a devotion to seeing that crimes like these not claim any more of our families.
I am proud to work alongside each of these award recipients. I admire you, and I depend on the good work of all of you, and the many thousands of other people around the country working on behalf of victims of crime.
The plaques we hand out today are not thanks enough, and my own words are not sufficient to express my gratitude. But please know that as you continue your work, I am by your side.
May God bless you all and guide you in your efforts, and may he continue to bless the United States of America.