REMARKS BY DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER, JR.
District of Columbia Coalition Against Domestic Violence
"District of Columbia Domestic Violence Training Conference"
Washington Plaza Hotel
May 19, 1999
Thank you for your kind introduction. As a nation, we have made great progress in the fight against domestic violence. Not long ago, domestic violence was viewed as a purely private matter. But in the past few years, much has been done to raise our collective awareness of domestic violence, and to punish batterers and help victims. Today, we know that domestic violence is not about private conduct or part of a family's private life that should be shielded from public view. Domestic violence is a crime with many negative consequences.
Yet too many American women still live in fear of the very people on whom they should be able to depend for love and support. Instead of providing refuge, the walls of too many homes have served as prison bars, isolating battered women from help and trapping them in violent relationships. On average, in each year between 1992 and 1996, there were more than 960,000 violent victimizations of women age 12 or older by an intimate (defined as a current or former spouse or boyfriend). Although less likely than males to experience violent crime overall, women are five to eight times more likely than men to be victimized by an intimate. From 1976 to 1996, the percentage of female murder victims killed by intimates has remained at about 30%.
President Clinton has made the fight against domestic violence a top priority. The Violence Against Women Act, also called VAWA, is landmark legislation in its scope and in its mission. VAWA takes a comprehensive approach to fighting violence against women, combining tough new penalties with programs to prosecute offenders and help women victims of violence. The Act, which passed with the bipartisan support of Congress in 1994, was a crucial turning point in our national effort to break the cycle of domestic violence and sexual assault. VAWA's approach is very simple -- it challenges us to build an integrated partnership among federal, state, and local entities, and to work together with victim advocates to make a difference in the lives of women and families. The Justice Department continues to work within its area of expertise -- law enforcement -- to ensure that acts of violence against women are treated as serious crimes by police officers, prosecutors, and judges. VAWA creates new federal crimes for interstate acts of domestic violence and prohibits persons who are subject to a valid protection order from possessing a firearm. VAWA also recognizes that battered women often must flee to safety across state or tribal lines, and therefore makes their protection orders valid and enforceable in every jurisdiction in America. In addition, VAWA establishes grant programs that are forging unique partnerships between the federal and state governments, and between the criminal justice system and victim advocates. Through its central grant program, the S*T*O*P Violence Against Women Grant Program ("STOP" means services, training, officers, prosecutors), a total of $576 million has been awarded to states and Indian tribal governments since FY 1995. By design, the S*T*O*P grant program promotes a coordinated approach. It provides incentives for states to pool the expertise and resources of law enforcement, prosecutors, courts and victims' advocates. States around the nation are using federal S*T*O*P funding to train local law enforcement on domestic violence and sexual assault, and hire new prosecutors and investigators devoted specifically to domestic violence and sexual assault cases. S*T*O*P grants have funded rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters, sexual assault nurse examiners, and projects that help underserved victims, including minorities and non-English speaking women.
Beyond VAWA: Building Broad-Based Community Response Systems
We have come far in our efforts to hold the criminal justice system accountable for violence against women. But tougher laws will not by themselves put an end to domestic violence. We must empower communities to work together to respond to the problem in a more integrated and effective way. If we are to create an America in which girls will grow up without fear of being abused by an intimate partner, and boys will grow into men who believe that domestic violence is never acceptable, then we must move beyond traditional paradigms for fighting crime. I see two areas that are particularly crucial: first, building broad-based community response systems, and second, developing innovative prevention and early intervention strategies. One of the most enduring features of the battered women's movement has been the involvement of women's groups in bringing about change in the legal system. Shelter workers, victim advocates, and survivors of domestic violence came together to put pressure on law enforcement, prosecutors, and courts to treat domestic violence as a crime, not merely as a private or personal matter. In so doing, they have created effective partnerships with the criminal justice system in many communities throughout the country. Today, we can point to numerous models of successful collaboration between victim advocates and police, prosecutors, and judges. A police officer arrests a perpetrator of domestic violence, and then drives the victim and her children to the local shelter. A prosecutor works closely with the staff of a crisis counseling program to help a victim come forward and tell her story in court. A family court judge makes sure that a victim advocate is present to speak to a battered woman who cannot afford a lawyer. Surely there are gaps in the system, and there is much more to be done to maximize the effectiveness of such collaborative efforts, but the crucial role of victims and victim service providers in the criminal justice system's response to domestic violence is beyond question. We know that such collaboration works. But it does not yet go far enough if we are to reach the many women who continue to live in fear -- women too scared to call the police, women who fear retaliation if they take their abuser to court, women who suffer in silence, hoping that the man they love -- or used to love but are trapped with -- will somehow stop hurting them. The simple truth is that not all battered women seek help from the legal system, at least not at first. They may not be ready to take legal action against their abuser, but they desperately need help -- help in accessing resources and legal advice, help in formulating options, help in relocating, and help in finding a way to support their children on their own. Although they do not state that they are victims of abuse, battered women often seek assistance from government offices and community groups that must become part of our collaborative effort to end domestic violence. We must widen the circle, and build broad-based community response systems that challenge all of us to break the code of silence and let battered women know that they are not alone. Let me give you an example. Many battered women first seek help in emergency rooms and health clinics. According to the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics, 17% of all persons treated for violence-related injuries in hospital emergency rooms were injured by an intimate partner. Domestic violence is clearly a health issue. We therefore must build links between our criminal justice efforts and health care professionals. Health care workers can help battered women learn about their options, access legal services, and find shelter and support. Even for a woman who is not yet ready to press charges against her batterer, health care professionals who are sensitized to domestic violence can take simple steps, like making detailed notes of the victim's injuries and statements, or keeping an instant camera handy so that photographs of her injuries can be kept in her medical records, or even given to her. These simple steps can make all the difference in a future prosecution or petition for a protection order.
Prevention and Early Intervention
We also must develop innovative strategies that focus on prevention and early intervention. We must look both within and beyond the traditional confines of the criminal justice system to find ways to prevent domestic violence. Several new strategies hold great promise.
Community policing is one such strategy. The Justice Department's COPS program (Community Oriented Policing Services) represents the Administration's commitment to put more police officers on the street. Through our experience, we have learned that community policing needs to be part of a community-wide response to domestic violence -- mostly because police officers are so often the first responders in the fight against domestic violence. The COPS domestic violence program fosters partnerships between law enforcement and victim advocates at the community level. Through this program, we fund innovative domestic violence services in numerous police departments and sheriffs' offices around the country. Another innovation in the fight against domestic violence is specialized domestic violence courts. These courts have brought coherence and coordination to the various court actions in which a battered woman frequently is involved. Often, she must go to one court for a protection order, another to begin permanent custody or divorce proceedings, and yet another to testify in the criminal prosecution of her abuser. While all these matters stem from the same incident or incidents of abuse, each case is often heard by a different judge, which in turn can result in orders with conflicting provisions. To enable courts to improve coordination and provide streamlined assistance to battered women, a number of court systems throughout the country have developed specialized domestic violence courts that integrate civil and criminal functions. Victims are also better served by the intake centers of these courts, which provide one-stop shopping for information regarding protection orders, child support, custody, divorce, and criminal prosecution, as well as referrals to shelters, counseling programs, and legal services. We have also begun to focus on the principles and guidelines that should be followed in batterer intervention and other offender monitoring programs. In our efforts to prevent further acts of domestic violence, we are looking at how to apply the principles of intensive judicial supervision, swift and appropriate sanctions, and treatment, while ensuring the safety of the victim. We are learning that batterer intervention works best when it works hand-in-hand with probation officers and with advocates who keep in close contact with victims. Batterer intervention also provides us an important opportunity to study and address the nexus between drug and alcohol abuse and domestic violence. While tough law enforcement is critical to combating domestic violence, we will never arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate our way out of this problem. If we are going to help our young people to lead lives free from domestic violence, we simply have to do more to keep them from learning violent behavior, and to un-learn violence once they have been exposed to it. It is for this reason, in part, that I created the Children Exposed to Violence Initiative at the Department of Justice. We know that children who are victims and witness to domestic and other forms of violence are more likely to become juvenile offenders. The goal of the Children Exposed to Violence Initiative is to (1) prevent child victimization in the first instance; (2) intervene early in the lives of children who are exposed to violence, ensuring that children are not revictimized by the systems designed to help them; and (3) hold offenders more accountable for their actions. As we head towards the Department's National Summit on Children Exposed to Violence on June 22-24, I have been working with advocates and experts from the domestic violence field to define the Summit agenda. With the help of Summit faculty and participants, we have an opportunity to make a difference in this area by expanding our vision of responding to children exposed to violence to include the whole family -- to help the protecting parent in the family and to understand the complexity of a child's relationship with the abusive parent. We know that there are a few programs around the country that have developed meaningful collaboration between child protection systems and domestic violence service providers and that include the protecting parent in their efforts to address the needs of children. It is our hope that the National Summit and subsequent regional fora will enable us to replicate these efforts nationwide.
We have made great progress in educating the public about domestic violence and improving the criminal justice system's response, but there is much more to be done. When 30% of women homicide victims are murdered by their intimate partners, we are not doing enough. These crimes could have been prevented -- if a family member had spoken out, if a doctor had acknowledged what he or she had seen, if a prosecutor had pursued criminal sanctions. That's why your work here today is so very important and inspiring. By bringing together police, prosecutors, and treatment providers to learn from each other and coordinate strategies, you are creating a broad-based community-response to domestic violence for the District of Columbia. I thank you for your efforts on behalf of the many women and children whose lives will be positively affected.