REMARKS BY DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER, JR.
BIANNUAL MEETING OF THE NATIONAL ADVISORY COUNCIL
ON VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
MAY 10, 1999
Thank you Bonnie for such a kind introduction. On behalf of Attorney General Janet Reno and Secretary Donna Shalala, it is a pleasure to welcome you to this biannual meeting of the National Advisory Council on Violence Against Women. Both the Attorney General and the Secretary were called to the White House for a strategy session on youth violence, but will return shortly to welcome you personally.
In the interim, I have the pleasure of introducing Dr. Jeff Edelson, an individual who has made an immeasurable contribution to our understanding of violence against women, and in particular to our understanding of the relationship between domestic violence and child abuse.
The connection between these two issue - domestic violence and child abuse - is of vital importance. All too often we have approached these issues separately, with talented advocates working tirelessly on behalf of their respective constituencies. However, as I've come to learn, and as I believe all of you will agree, we must do a better job of understanding the link between these critical issues. We can, indeed we must, find better ways to keep battered women and their children safe. We must open our eyes to the family as a whole and recognize that if a woman is not safe in her home, a child cannot be physically safe or emotionally healthy.
These issues are very near to my heart. When I was the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, I created a separate domestic violence unit in our office staffed with specially trained prosecutors to handle only domestic violence cases. Now, in my capacity as Deputy Attorney General, the Attorney General has asked me to direct the Children Exposed to Violence Initiative, in which HHS is a critical partner. This Initiative involves a wide range of efforts that promote justice system reform and encourage a new level of multi-disciplinary collaboration to address the needs of children who are victims of, or witnesses to, violence.
I would like to take a moment to talk with you about this Initiative and about some of the exciting collaborative opportunities the Initiative affords us. It is my hope that many of the talented individuals working with the Advisory Council on Violence Against Women can help inform and expand our efforts to recognize and address the critical link between domestic violence and children's exposure to violence.
As many of you know, while overall crime rates have dropped to a 25-year low, we are still struggling as a society adequately to protect our children. In 1996, data reported to HHS showed that 3 million children were reported as maltreated or abused. Approximately 33 percent of violent crime victims are children under the age of 19. Youth ages 12 to 19 are almost three times more likely than adults to experience violent crime and suffer injury as a result. Of the nation's 22.3 million adolescents ages 12 to 17, approximately 1.8 million have been victims of serious sexual assault, 3.9 million have been victims of serious physical assault, and almost 9 million have witnessed serious violence. Much of this victimization goes unrecognized and unaddressed until the damage is beyond repair. As we have come to realize, children's exposure to violence is not only a social services issue, it is a law enforcement issue: research definitively shows that child victims are much more likely to become juvenile and adult offenders. The cruel beginnings suffered by many of our children have produced a legacy of troubled lives and violence. As a nation, we have paid dearly in lost lives and human potential.
The goal of the Children Exposed to Violence Initiative is to help put an end to this cycle of violence. The Initiative seeks to protect and heal our children by preventing child victimization in the first place, intervening early in the lives of children exposed to violence, ensuring that children are not revictimized by the systems designed to help and protect them, and holding offenders more accountable for their actions.
The Initiative is composed of five parts: (1) Justice System Reform, (2) Legislative Reform, (3) Program Support and Development, (4) Community Outreach, and (5) Public Awareness. The first piece seeks to improve law enforcement's response to child victims and witnesses by providing information, technical assistance, and training to federal, state, and local law enforcement agents, prosecutors, judges, and victim/witness coordinators serving children. We are producing a monograph for use by all law enforcement professionals that lays out the facts and issues relating to children exposed to violence and highlights and recommends specific reforms, including the expanded use of court schools, child death review teams, child advocacy centers, and child interview specialists within prosecutors' offices.
We must also rectify the gaps that unfortunately exist in our current law. That is why we are also proposing and supporting new federal and state legislation designed to address the needs of child victims and witnesses and improve the accountability of perpetrators of violence against children. When I was United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, we pushed for and ultimately secured passage of a new District law that made child abuse a predicate act for felony murder. Under the new proposed federal law, liability for first degree murder can be established without proof of intent to kill and premeditation -- elements that are often difficult to prove in child abuse cases. We will soon be sending this and other appropriate federal proposals to Congress and creating a monograph of model state statutes for use by state legislators. In addition to addressing enhanced accountability for perpetrators, the monograph will propose provisions designed to assist children who appear in court. These proposals include the use of closed circuit television, the appointment of guardians-ad-litem, limiting the number of interviews of child victims and witnesses, and assisting children by use of testimonial aids and adult facilitators.
The Initiative will also support Department programs that promote violence prevention and intervention. To give but one example, as many of you know, the Department received $10,000,000 in FY '99 to establish the Safe Start program. Safe Start builds upon successful efforts like New Haven's Child Development -- Community Policing Project. Under the CD-CP model, police first responders are trained in the area of mental health. Understanding that children who have experienced or witnessed violence need special care, the police officers work together with mental health providers on the scene to give traumatized children the support they need. The Safe Start program will fund similar efforts in several communities and will include courts and prosecutors, as well as a variety of social services agencies, in the continuum of care.
To promote all of these ideas, the Department and HHS will host a National Summit on Children Exposed to Violence in June, here in Washington, that will bring together leading scholars, clinicians, service providers, and policy-makers to develop a blue-print for local action.
It is my hope that the Summit will raise the issue of child victimization to national attention and highlight the important link between domestic violence and children's exposure to violence.
The Summit will be followed by a series of regional fora across the country focused on adapting the blue-print to the needs of individual communities.
Today's speaker, Dr. Jeff Edleson, has studied and developed innovative policy and practice approaches to issues that are an important part of the Children Exposed to Violence Initiative and the work that will be done at the National Summit. Dr. Edleson is on the forefront of efforts to reshape current institutional responses to the co-occurrence of domestic violence and child abuse. He and his colleague, Susan Schechter, who serves on this Council, have done groundbreaking work on developing guidelines for juvenile courts, child protection agencies, and domestic violence programs to use in responding to the co-occurrence of child maltreatment and domestic violence in ways that ensure the safety, stability, and well-being of all victims in a family.
I recently had a conversation with advocates and experts from the domestic violence field who are deeply concerned about children who witness domestic violence, and Dr. Edleson was an integral and inspiring part of that discussion. 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 support and build the capacity of 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 elevate this kind of collaboration to a level of practice that is useful to communities nationwide.
Now, I will turn the floor over to Dr. Edleson, who in addition, to the accomplishments I have already mentioned, is a professor at the University of Minnesota School of Social Work and director of the Minnesota Center Against Violence and Abuse. He has published over sixty articles and books on domestic violence, group work, and program evaluation and, for almost 16 years, he has conducted intervention research at the Domestic Abuse Project in Minneapolis, where he is the Director of Evaluation and Research. He has provided technical assistance to domestic violence programs and research projects in the United States and abroad and was a member of the National Research Council's Panel on Research on Violence Against Women. He currently sits on the Expert Panel of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, Child Protection, and Custody and is a consultant to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Family and Intimate Violence Prevention Subcommittee. We are honored to have him here to speak with us today. Dr. Edleson.