Remarks of the
Co-Chairman of the
National Advisory Committee on Violence Against Women at the
April 25, 2003
[Attorney General Ashcroft enters.]
MS. STUART: I think that's quite indicative about how much we think about this attorney general, isn't it?
THE GROUP: [Applause.]
MS. STUART: Absolutely. He has such a busy schedule, and I am so pleased that he is here to share a few minutes with us.
We've talked the about this book before. And I wanted you to see my copy. And I don't know if you can see the purple tabs that come out of it. But I have used this and used this and used this. If you go back and look at your copy and look at the Violence Against Women Act, you'll see that this was a blueprint for it. This is a man who is committed, who knows this area, who feels passionately about this particular issue. He is making a difference.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is my privilege to introduce the Attorney General of the United States, John Ashcroft.
THE GROUP: [Applause.]
SECRETARY ASHCROFT: Please be seated. Thank you. As an old politician, I'm always afraid when people stand up like that. In political meetings, it's a cover for a mass exodus as people stream for the exits as someone has the cover of standing applause.
Thank you for being here. Thank you for your concern and your activity. Thank you for the example and inspiration that you bring to America. And I want to say what a pleasure it is for me to have the opportunity to meet with the National Advisory Committee on Violence Against Women and offer some thoughts as you conclude your second meeting of the committee.
And judging from the content of the agenda and the feedback that I've received from my staff, it's been a meeting that's been very productive and thought provoking. And that it's important that we have thoughts, new thoughts, new ideas.
I think you held something up from the early '80s there if I'm not mistaken. We need new ideas. Good ideas.
I'll talk about some of the people that have inspired me today. I can't emphasize enough my appreciation for your commitment to helping the victims of sexual assault, stalking, and crimes of domestic violence. And this is an endeavor in which we involve ourselves together in set of circumstances. But each of us is involved in other way on this issues.
Last month at the White House with Secretary Tommy Thompson, together we had the opportunity of moderating what's called the Lifetime Stop Violence Against Women Round Table. And this administration and this justice department shared a resolve to protect women from this kind of injury and to give communities the tools to transform the lives of victims.
I have a personal commitment to the idea that the tragedy of violence is so severe that we've got to limit it instead of institutionalize it. And my heros in this movement are people who find ways to put the tragedy in the past. Not to say and devalue the tragedy in any way, but to try and rob those who have robbed us of the opportunity of denying us the rest of our lives because they have hurt us in a portion of our lives.
And it is important that you are focusing on essential and coordinated community responses, coordinated community responses. And the reports of some of the work that's done together are very inspiring to me.
Crime is like a stone that's thrown into a lake. It's not just the part of the lake where the stone hits that there's an impact. Families, children, the intergenerational aspects of some of this activity is perhaps as devastating as is the initial impact.
Violent crime against women also affects their children, their colleagues, their neighbors, even their husbands, their boyfriends. So I look forward to the recommendations on increasing involvement of the nation's organizations and institutions, the faith-based organizations, and other grassroots groups into remediating this problem and preventing the problem.
I have the privilege of serving as the attorney general, and I oversee the justice department. To me it's an interesting thing to think about the justice department being named the justice department. Justice is a moral value. And there aren't many departments named with moral values.
It's not just the department of prosecution. It's not the department of law enforcement. It's the department of justice. To do justice is a command. And sometimes we think that justice is what happens after someone has been wronged. Frankly, we seek justice. But real justice isn't the remediation of injustice. It is the avoidance of injustice.
If we can prevent a crime from being done, then justice prevails. It is in the remediation of justice that justice doesn't prevail, but it's restored. How good it is if we can avoid having to restore justice by preventing injustice and having justice prevail all along?
So as much as I want to be involved in remediation, I want to be involved in prevention. That's part of the philosophy of the justice department. And, yes, when a wrong has been done, we will restore justice and we will remediate by prosecuting and doing other things. But having the ability to try to avoid victimization as well as aiding victims is equally a part of the opportunity and response and privilege and duty of those of us who seek justice.
I recently have the privilege of announcing the President's new program called "Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology." It's an initiative President Bush is committed to achieving, dedicating the resources necessary to enable the fullest use of DNA, DNA technology, to solve crimes and to protect the innocent.
The plan commits more than one billion dollars in federal funding over the next five years. I think it's $232 million in the next year. That's very substantial. This is a qualitative as well as quantitative change in the commitment to justice in this important arena. And it sends a signal about the certainty of apprehension and the likelihood of punishment of those who might abuse other individuals.
The President's Advancing Justice through DNA Technology Initiative will expand and strengthen as never before the use of DNA technology in the criminal justice system. It is a program that will provide the resources to eliminate the wide-spread extensive DNA backlog. I'm talking about the analysis backlog that exists in DNA settings.
It will provide intensive training on the use of DNA for law enforcement officials. It will provide information to victim advocates and medical personnel. And it's designed as well to enhance technology so that DNA analysis can be done far more rapidly, in a timely fashion, and that the backlog, indeed, will be reduced.
When police, prosecutors, and judges are better trained in the use of DNA as an investigative tool, not only are they more likely to be capable of using it but the likelihood that the evidence will be collected in the first place and stored properly and analyzed properly and, therefore, available for effective utilization is enhanced.
Training for the medical personnel and victim advocates will help those individuals more effectively and compassionately convey to victims the importance of sexual assault forensic examinations and how the evidence that's collected in those examinations will aid in identifying and prosecuting an assailant.
I talked about the difference between remediation and, that is, prosecution trying to restore justice and prevention which is an effort to maintain justice. But I don't want to ever suggest that those aren't related. Because swift, sure punishment is a way of preventing additional crimes. Not just recidivism or repeat offenses by an individual, but by example it signals to the community. So these components of the justice enterprise work hand and hand to fight the kind of abuse and criminal activity that has been so troublesome.
The National Institute of Justice estimates that the backlog of rape and homicides cases alone is about 350,000. That is analysis kits for DNA. Just to give you an idea or to quantify that in some way to say that, if we analyzed one case a day until they were all analyzed, it would take 958 years.
Now, we've got a big job on our hands. That's why it takes the vision as expressed in the President's initiative to commit the resources to reduce the backlog. Victims of crime deserve better. And we will do something to improve the performance.
Let me tell you how DNA technology changed a life. And this is a life that has been inspirational to me. I had the privilege of meeting Kelly Green at the White House Round Table which I mentioned earlier.
On January the 18th, 1994, Kelly was entering her apartment when she was brutally attacked by an intruder who raped her. At the time of the attack, Florida did not analyze DNA in so-called "no suspect" cases. So they shelved her rape kit for further analysis in the scheme of priorities that they then had.
Three years later. And for three years, this innocent woman lived in fear that her attacker was out there somewhere and who might somehow return. Finally, the DNA was analyzed and linked to the profile of David William Shaw. It turned out that Shaw was already serving a 25-year sentence for a rape he had committed just in the general time frame of the time that Kelly had been raped. Just weeks, as a matter of fact, before Kelly had been assaulted.
Kelly told me this. She said, "It's a very dark place to walk once you've been a victim of crime, especially sexual assault. It takes a long time and a lot of hard work to heal. But knowing who committed the crime against you and knowing that that perpetrator, that that rapist, is in prison and not hurting anyone else makes the road a lot easier to travel so you can regain your life and move on."
That's very important to me. But I have to tell you that Kelly has devoted much of her time to traveling around the country, speaking to groups about the healing process for victims of sexual assault. For Kelly, though, her healing was not complete even doing that. And then she stuck on the idea. January 18, the date of her attack, remained a date that haunted her. She thought about January the 18th. It was the date that marked her life.
And on the fifth anniversary of that dark event when evil touched her life, she decided that she would no longer let January the 18th be such a bad day in her life. And so she went and jumped out of an airplane -- with a parachute on, of course. And I just find that to be so inspiring.
I think the greatest opportunity for humanity is to control circumstance rather than to be controlled by circumstance. And when the creator assembled the dust of the earth into human form in accordance with my belief, shared his own breath so that we can have life, he said have dominion over the world. And I think that it means, instead of being controlled by circumstances, we control circumstances. And I love to see someone take control of circumstances.
And we don't always have that in our culture. I think that's always a struggle. I think of the popular country song a couple years ago which was "long neck bottle let go of my hand." How did you know I was going to talk about that one? But, you know, some people are controlled by things like bottles or circumstances. But sometimes people decide to rise above that, to say I was created not to be controlled by a bottle or a circumstance.
And so what's interesting to me is tomorrow Kelly and thousands of others around the country are going to go jump out of airplanes to celebrate this. And she invited me to jump out of an airplane. I've had people go tell me to go take a jump in various settings and for various purposes in my life but never quite as noble as this very inspiring woman who is a delightful person. And she is an amazing woman of strength and spirit, and we can all learn from her example.
I'm not saying everyone needs to go jump out of an airplane. I think I'll continue to ride my motorcycle on my farm. To each his own.
But I think all victims of sexual assault deserve an opportunity to close the chapter of assault that Kelly closed and to be able to make the kind of progress that she's made. And she's so generous in sharing her story, the tough parts and the good parts. And it's been a real inspiration to me.
So it's sort of with that anticipation that we want the kinds of things to happen to others that happen to her. The DNA resolution of her circumstances was one giant step forward on a journey that I'm sure she continues to make, but it's a far more pleasant journey than it was at one time. And it's one now that she understands is part of the journeys of others. Those who travel to great destinations frequently signal to others that they can move toward rewarding objectives as well.
So it's with a sense of great anticipation that we're moving forward with the President's Advancing Justice through DNA Technology Initiative. We'll be working with members of the United States Congress to develop the legislation necessary to achieve the goals that are set forth in the President's plan.
We share the same goals. Greater justice for victims, holding offenders accountable for their violent behavior, making our communities safer. The President's Advancing Justice through DNA Technology Initiative will go a long way toward attaining these goals. And, frankly, I look forward to working together with you in partnership with this advisory institution to help achieve that.
Well, let me once again thank you for giving of yourselves in this respect. Let me thank you for mobilizing the resources that you represent, the different capacities or communities and not just what happens in government but what happens outside government.
I don't stand here today to recommend that government go into a sort of parachute assistance program. I understand that people will develop ways of approaching these issues on their own. So there are things that should happen in the governmental setting. And there are things that should happen in other settings and people bring to bear their imagination and their innovation and their creativity and their spirit of recovery in ways that are inspirational and will prompt and provoke better enforcement and greater recovery on the part of those who are victimized and on the part of those who seek to assist those who have been victimized to make those recoveries.
And let's us always remember that whenever we prosecute, we prevent. But there are times for us to prevent in the absence of prosecution and that justice is a desirable goal, the nobility of which should inspire us all.
So thank you for you the excellent work. God bless you and God bless America. Thank you.
[The Attorney General leaves.]