Good afternoon, and thank you, Cindy, for that introduction.
And thank you all for being here today and yesterday for this regional summit. I know for some of you it is quite a long trip to get to the city, and it is difficult to be away from the important work that you do each day.
I would also like to thank the Department’s Office on Violence Against Women and its Director, Cindy Dyer, for inviting me to be here, and for bringing together so many gifted people from different disciplines to address the critical issue of violence against women.
It is an unfortunate fact that domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking do not know any geographic boundaries and are not impeded by them. A coordinated response by law enforcement is critical to investigate and prosecute these crimes, and to ensure that victims and justice are served most effectively.
Let me be clear: the Department of Justice is committed to fighting violence against women. We are committed to strengthening the criminal justice response, to holding offenders accountable, and to keeping victims safe. All three of these components are essential to our work, and all of you are essential to this strategy. We are proud to be your partner and to offer you any assistance we can.
You are the first responders who take the call for a domestic disturbance in the middle of the night. Your hands give victims the help they need, and the Department not only admires, but also shares your commitment and dedication to this mission.
Part of what we can do to help is to support your work and your ideas, and to share with you best practices in the field. We have had a great deal of success in helping to establish community-based solutions that serve the specific needs of the people in one city or region, and then spreading those programs to other areas around the country. We build on the best practices we learn from each, to help other communities develop the solutions that help them the most.
One example of this is the President’s Family Justice Initiative. Since this initiative was launched in October 2003, the Department of Justice has awarded more than $20 million to 15 communities across the country for a pilot program to plan, develop, and establish comprehensive domestic violence victim service and support centers. I saw the work performed at one of these centers first-hand on a recent trip to New Orleans. It is a place, where, under one roof, victims can talk to the police, file court documents, see a lawyer, and speak with a counselor or a therapist – essentially a one-stop shop for victim services.
Another innovation that addresses a different challenge in combating violence and providing seamless law enforcement support across jurisdictions is the Domestic Violence Intervention Division in the Prince George’s County Maryland Sheriff’s Office. They are represented here today by Sheriff Michael Jackson and the program manager, Norma Hartley.
Beginning in 2004, this division has received funding through the Department’s Services, Training, Officer, Prosecutors – or STOP – grant program. With that help, they established a unique and successful Victim Advocate Unit, which responds around-the-clock to domestic violence 911 calls. In addition to a standard incident report, deputies in this unit who take calls are required to file a Domestic Violence Supplemental Report, which is then copied by advocates who make immediate intervention contact with victims.
The Family Justice Center initiative started small and put a model in place for other communities to follow. It is our hope that the Prince George's County Victim Advocate Unit can also serve as a model for many more towns and counties.
In the same way, I hope that this metropolitan area can serve as a model for others throughout the country – a model of coordinated community response to crimes of violence against women.
The collaboration between jurisdictions, between your agency and the other people in this room, is vital to our success. We have an opportunity to create a real plan that other regions can learn from and build upon – to work with your peers, identify the kinds of hurdles we face, and develop ways to overcome them.
I believe that one important measure of the virtue of our society is how we give hope to those who are most in need of help. Will we accept someone living in fear in her own home? Or is that simply unacceptable to us? Through your daily work, you have answered that question emphatically, and you have given hope to countless victims in your communities. Because these women are not victims of bad luck or of happenstance; they are victims of crime, and it is our job to battle that crime.
You have done great work in your communities on that score. In our work together now, we need to make sure that our efforts within each community are strengthened across our borders, not undercut by our borders. We need to fight the crime not just as it occurs in one jurisdiction, but as it travels. A woman in Virginia who has been stalked by her boyfriend should feel safe not just at her home in Fairfax County, but also at her job in Washington, or at the homes of her family members in Maryland.
The men and women of law enforcement have a special role in coordinating this response. By spending the last two days at this summit getting to know one another, sharing ideas, building new partnerships, and strengthening existing ones, you can help build the relationships that will enhance the region’s response to violence against women in all of the ugly forms it takes.
That's what I hope each of us takes away from this conference: the energy we get from being with one another working in a common cause and the determination to fight these crimes and help victims put their lives back together again.
Thank you for that, and for all the hope you will give to victims in the days, months, and years ahead.