The January message that I’d hoped to post a few weeks ago has been delayed for a few reasons, and each time I have tried to finish it, something else has happened, both exciting and very sad. As I write now, it is 3am on Sunday, the 15th, and I am on my way home from attending the Memorial Services for Ellen Pence. Her passing is a profound loss for the world, for us (and for me) personally and professionally. She changed the landscape for victims and those who serve them in the most fundamental of ways. She connected with people from across the globe, over decades, from every walk of life, making social change the core of her being. And ending violence against women, the penultimate injustice to be remedied. To be at her service, surrounded by hundreds whose lives were impacted – quite literally changed because of her influence, was a moving experience, made all the more so in knowing that the many who had wanted to, but couldn’t be, there were all holding her close to their hearts at the same time. To the day she died, she challenged us to do better; no matter what we did, it could always improve, and it has to. And we know it will. Ellen’s DNA is part of the movement – she is in us all, and we are better for having known her, having learned from her, and having been blessed with her friendship. We will carry on in her honor and memory. As much as she will be missed, she will be with us forever. Our hearts go out to Amanda, her beloved partner, and Liam, their son, and Ellen’s other family and colleagues at Praxis.
The transition from one year to the next is a wonderful time to reflect upon the activities and accomplishments of the prior year, and to look forward to the exciting challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. Some of the highlights of 2011 include the following.
In late December, the Director of the FBI, Robert Mueller, announced a change to the UCR Summary Reporting System definition of rape. From its exceedingly narrow, 1929 definition of “carnal knowledge, forcibly and against her will,” the definition has been changed to recognize and validate the experiences of all victims of this horrific crime by counting among the national data crimes of rape involving all genders of victims and perpetrators, and rape with objects as well as body parts. The new definition reads: The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.
This change marks a significant collaboration between the White House, the Department of Justice, law enforcement organizations, advocates and many others. It was a powerful, positive way to end the year, and OVW is very proud to be a part of this change.
Many important accomplishments derive from our Programs Division. A sampling includes the following:
Although not from OVW, a critically important report was disseminated in mid-December. The United States Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) and the shocking data garnered significant media attention. The NISVS data speak to the need for a comprehensive Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization that focuses resources where they are most needed.
NISVS findings support what we know from previous research, continuous feedback from the field, and our 17 years of experience administering VAWA – domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking are pervasive and devastating crimes:
Studies have repeatedly shown than young people are at the greatest risk for victimization, and the data from NISVS confirm this tragic fact.
It is essential to target young victims for prevention and intervention – both because they are at great risk for victimization, and because prevention and intervention could reduce the likelihood of future assaults.
As January, which is National Stalking Awareness Month, is upon us, it is important to note that the NISVS data demonstrate the gravity of stalking:
The NISVS data also document how women are disproportionately impacted by these crimes. While the Violence Against Women Act recognizes the gendered nature of these crimes, it makes all services and justice interventions available for men, women, and transgendered individuals. According to NISVS data:
This is reflective of the first wave of data collection. As NISVS continues, we will have a better picture of estimates for both men and women. NISVS has been continually modified based on its first round of interviews so estimates could look different in another year.
The CDC has a roll-out plan, including a toolkit communities can use to talk about the shocking data and the needs in their communities. A fact sheet, the toolkit, and the full report can be found on the CDC’s website: http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/nisvs/ .
Now more than ever, your work as advocates, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, counselors, lawyers, teachers, and coaches is needed. Violence against women is a crisis of pandemic proportions, and we can only make a difference if we work together. We must make survivors’ voices heard, from VAWA reauthorization here in Washington, DC to your local faith communities and youth groups. Studies like the NIJ-funded “Shifting Boundaries” have shown that it is possible to prevent domestic and sexual violence. I am honored to work side by side with you to make that vision a reality.
In December, we had an opportunity to host the first meeting of the newly re-chartered Task Force on Research on Violence Against American Indian and Alaska Native Women with our partners at the Department’s National Institute of Justice, under the leadership of Christine Crossland, Senior Social Science Analyst in the Office of Research and Evaluation. This was followed by the Department’s Sixth Annual Tribal Consultation. This government-to-government consultation was an extraordinary opportunity to hear from Tribal leaders across the country on three topics statutorily mandated by Title IX of the Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005 (VAWA 2005): (1) administering tribal funds and programs; (2) Enhancing the safety of Indian women from domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking; and (3) Strengthening the federal response to such crimes. In addition to the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Behavioral Health, Indian Health Service, and Family Violence Prevention Division of the Family and Youth Services Bureau also joined. The Consultation was followed by a day devoted to the Consolidated Tribal Assistance Solicitation (CTAS) process designed to promote efficient and effective dissemination of Department Tribal grant awards.
As we are now in January, we proudly join the President in recognizing National Stalking Awareness Month (NSAM). As the first President to so recognize January, President Obama again this year speaks to the gravity of stalking and its impact on victims in his proclamation: “In our schools and in our neighborhoods, at home and in workplaces across our Nation, stalking endangers the physical and emotional well-being of millions of American men and women every year. Too often, stalking goes unreported and unaddressed, and we must take action against this unacceptable abuse. This month, we stand with all those who have been affected by stalking and strengthen our resolve to prevent this crime before it occurs.”
The ongoing support by this Administration, along with the coordination among federal, state, local, tribal, and private sector organizations, will bolster public awareness, support, and resources for survivors. Education is the first crucial step in recognizing and preventing this crime, and reporting it when it occurs so that offenders may be properly held accountable for their dangerous behavior.
Stalking is described by the Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) as a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear for his or her safety or the safety of someone close such as a family member. Stalking behaviors can include seemingly innocuous acts, such as making unwanted phone calls; sending unsolicited or unwanted letters or emails; or leaving unwanted items, presents or flowers, but when taken together, and when feared by the victim, may constitute a criminal act. Other forms of stalking include following or spying on the victim; showing up at places where the victim is likely to be without a legitimate reason; waiting at places for the victim; and posting information or spreading rumors about the victim on the internet, in a public place, or by word of mouth. Newer technologies, such as text messaging, emails, and electronic monitoring devices (including cameras and GPS), are also utilized by perpetrators to stalk victims. Stalking is also frequently a precursor to much more serious, and sometimes lethal, acts. In fact, 76% of female intimate partner murder victims had been stalked by their partners prior to their death.
During this month and throughout the year ahead, we are committed to spreading the word that stalking will not be tolerated. For more information, please visit the Stalking Awareness Month website at: http://stalkingawarenessmonth.org.
Finally, I know this will be posted just after our annual observance of Martin Luther King Day, and what a fitting end to this message, having begun with Ellen Pence, whose work around racial injustice was so vitally important, and integral to her work around violence against women. Together they frame an important lens for us, that social injustices exist all around us. If we do nothing, we condone the inhumanity. It is up to each of us to take up the charge. In their honor and memory, let us continue our collaboration and friendship.
With respect and gratitude,
Susan B. Carbon, Director
As mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, friends, neighbors and colleagues, this is an important time for all of us to join together to help stem the tide of teen dating violence. The month of February is designated Teen Dating Violence and Awareness Month, for good reason. Far too many of our youth and young adults experience violence in their lives. In one study, for example, nearly one in ten high school students had been hit, slapped or physically hurt, on purpose, by a boyfriend or girlfriend. Youth ages 12 to 19 experience very high rates of rape and sexual assault. These teen years should be a time for developing, and enjoying, healthy relationships, and it is incumbent on all of us to help change the course of this path. We need to avert the depression, poor school performance, emotional and physical impacts, and substance abuse that so often we see in connection with teen dating violence.
There is much we can do – and are doing. We at OVW are proud to be supporting the That’sNotCool.com website where teens can learn about controlling and abusive behaviors and learn to draw their own “digital lines” of appropriate and healthy relationships. We are also excited to be supporting the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline. OVW recently funded the expansion of the Helpline to include text messaging and provide all services 24 hours a day. Young people can text “loveis” to 77054 and connect with a trained advocate. Since launching text capacity in September 2011, the Helpline has conducted over 10,000 chat and text conversations with young people in need. And, under the Vice President’s leadership, we have the very innovative 1is2many campaign (www.whitehouse.gov/1is2many). For more information about how to help, check out the official TDV awareness month website, www.teendvmonth.org. Raising awareness and talking about these realities is an important step in prevention, and I hope you will all find ways to do so during the month of February.
Just hours ago I returned from a trip abroad, participating in two back-to-back events. In Almaty, Kazakhstan, the United Nations Committee for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women (known as UNWomen) convened a meeting of the former Soviet countries to discuss progress in implementing domestic violence legislation. In the 20 years since the break-up of the Soviet Union, these countries have gradually been adopting and updating legislation to address domestic violence and sexual assault.
Just as in the United States, though, change does not come easily. Passing a law, albeit a challenge in itself, is just the first step. But these men and women are committed to addressing the scourge of abuse against women in their countries, and took this opportunity to learn from one another, and from the United States with how we have implemented the Violence Against Women Act. Of particular interest and activity in these countries is the use of civil protective orders to ensure safety and protection for abused women and their children. Advocates for Human Rights (AHR) in Minnesota, under the leadership of Cheryl Thomas, have been instrumental in providing leadership over the past decade, and it was a privilege to work alongside the team to continue forging recommendations for ending violence against women in these countries.
Thereafter I had the opportunity to participate as part of the United States’ delegation to Part II of the Special Commission of the Hague Convention on the 1980 Child Abduction Convention. Under the leadership of James Pettit, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Overseas Citizens Services in the Bureau of Consular Affairs, and his team which included Michael Coffee, Beth Payne, Corrin Ferber, Lisa Vogel, and Katherine Penberthy, as well as Judge Judith Kreeger, one of the Hague Network Judges, from Miami, FL, and Betsy McAllister Groves from Boston Medical Center, we spent the week looking at how the Convention could be strengthened. One of the key areas is with regard to Section 13(b), the grave risk exception. The Convention was adopted for the purpose of expediting return of abducted children, wrongfully taken from their primary caregiver. However, over time, we have learned that often it is the primary caregiver who is leaving with or retaining the children out of concern for their safety. Section 13(b) includes an important exception to the expeditious return proceeding by recognizing that there may be circumstances where return would place the child at grave risk of harm or an otherwise intolerable situation. Domestic violence can, in many circumstances, constitute grave risk. At the conclusion of the meeting, the body, comprised of 150 representatives from over 90 countries, adopted a recommendation to be submitted to the Council on General Affairs and Policy in April, for there to be development of a Guide to Good Practice that will, among many other things, address this issue. Once again, it was a privilege to work with the State Department on such an important issue, and we are grateful for their outreach and engagement.
The reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act continues to move forward. This vital legislation has profoundly changed our national landscape and improved – and in many cases, saved – the lives of many women, children and men. Talking with women and men from Albania, Kazakhstan, Russia, Bulgaria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and many other countries brought the point full circle. Violence against women is – sadly – a worldwide phenomenon. We are in this together. What was so impressive to UNWomen and the participants at this conference was the extent to which our national leaders are committed to ending violence against women in this country. To see Republicans and Democrats alike, standing together, to end violence was enormously impactful. I hope this shared commitment continues.
With much respect and gratitude for all that you do, every day, in your communities,
Susan B. Carbon
February, as we all know, is a time of year where we highlight teen dating violence by raising awareness of through information-sharing and education.
On February 22nd, OVW held a Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month event focusing on the issues of dating violence and the use of technology. Cindy Southworth, from National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), shared information on the vulnerability of technology and the various ways teens can protect themselves from online abuse. This lead to a discussion, guided by Brian O’Connor from Futures Without Violence, about “digital gray areas” and how teens can draw their line when it comes to texting, "sexting", and managing their online space while in a relationship. He also shared a new video from the OVW funded “That’s Not Cool” Initiative that represented a couple exploring the idea of sharing Facebook passwords, which is an emerging issue with teens. This video allows users to respond online in their own words about how they may feel about that particular situation. Kelley Hampton from Break the Cycle closed the event by discussing how parents can recognize signs of dating abuse and how to initiate conversation with their teens. Resources from various organizations regarding teens and dating abuse were available to all participants and are accessible here:
National Network to End Domestic Violence Resources regarding technology safety: http://nnedv.org/resources/safetynetdocs.html
Resource for teens http://nnedv.org/docs/SafetyNet/NNEDV_TechSavvyTeens_English.pdf
That's Not Cool Initiative
www.thatsnotcool.com to view the new avatar video and other resources
Break the Cycle
Resources for Parents- http://www.breakthecycle.org/im-a-parent
Resources for Teens - http://blog.loveisrespect.org/ (which is the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline, a partner of Break the Cycle)
Periodically we have formal opportunities to appear before committees of Congress to talk about the work of our office. On February 16, 2012, we appeared before the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security to talk about our various grant programs, training and administration. Naturally, since VAWA is being considered for reauthorization, it also provided an opportunity to talk about the impact across the nation of this profoundly important legislation.
At the hearing, we discussed the role that VAWA has played in communities across the country, infusing states and territories with our formula funds, guidance and training to support coordinated community responses to domestic violence and support for local coalitions and sexual assault services programs. We also discussed the importance of the many competitive, discretionary grant programs that help to increase successful prosecutions in communities like Milwaukee, WI where, four years after implementing a specialized unit, felony-level domestic violence convictions had increased five-fold.
The committee members were keenly interested and we are grateful for the time and attention they gave to the workings of our office and the many grant programs we administer.
The hearing ended on a sobering, humble and hopeful note. Representative Gowdy recounted the tragedy of a young woman, hunted down by her ex-husband and shot in the head four times in the presence of their two children, and how the system had failed her – a protection order that was not enforced, not having access to an attorney, and professionals who had not been trained. At the time, South Carolina led the nation in men killing women. However, according to Congressman Gowdy, as a result of VAWA funding, and the training of law enforcement, prosecutors, judges and the faith community, among others, South Carolina has made “tremendous progress” and is “beginning to lift the stain on the collective soul” of the state. In 2008, there were no domestic homicides, and in 2011, one. I am grateful to the Congressman for sharing this important story. What a tribute to the hard work of so many concerned and dedicated individuals, and the importance of VAWA programs.
To listen to the testimony: http://judiciary.house.gov/hearings/Hearings 2012/hear_02162012.html
February has transitioned to March with an extraordinary conference: the 2d World Conference of Women's Shelters co-hosted by the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) and the Global Network of Women's Shelters. This international forum brought nearly 1500 advocates, ambassadors and other community leaders from over 95 countries to spend three days learning from one another and exploring methods of ending violence against women worldwide. Guest speakers included President Bill Clinton who shared profound perspectives of gender-based violence in a surprise lunch appearance, Valerie Jarrett, counsel to President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Special Ambassador Melanne Verveer, and Lynn Rosenthal, White House Advisor on Violence Against Women, as well as many other dignitaries and international leaders, including the Crown Princess of Denmark. Over 125 sessions were conducted, with subjects ranging from the importance of engaging men and boys in this work to sharing promising and proven strategies for implementing change. For a link to the conference: http://worldshelterconference.org/
The month of March is Women’s History Month where we also celebrate International Women's Day. Yesterday we posted our blog – check it out on our website if you haven’t already. This important day is a special reminder that women make up half the world – their voices, our voices, and our engagement are vital in every sphere of life.
As I was reminded at the Shelter Conference, there are thousands of advocates working in every corner of the world, and every corner of this country. Thank you for all of the very hard, and very important, work you do each day to make the world a safer place for women and girls. Our collective commitment to ending violence is making a difference.
With deep respect and gratitude,
Susan B. Carbon