Domestic Violence Awareness Month affords us the opportunity to reflect upon our efforts to improve the Nationís response to domestic violence, while also recommitting ourselves to renewing the hope and restoring the lives of women and children who have been impacted by this most devastating crime.†
The recent tragedies in the Gulf Coast remind us of the great importance of assisting those in need.† We know that domestic violence services were greatly impacted in those areas hardest hit by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.† Shelter closings, separations of families, and limited communication had a dramatic impact on the security and safety of these women and their children.† OVW is working closely with STOP State Administrators and Domestic Violence Coalition Directors in the most affected states to help bolster resources so that these most crucial services are available to women in need. ††
In the past year, OVW has made significant progress in the development of new initiatives to enhance and expand the coordinated community response to domestic violence.†† I would like to share a few of those with you.
In 2003, President Bush announced the development of the Presidentís Family Justice Center Initiative, an initiative to support the planning and development of comprehensive domestic violence victim service and support centers.† OVW was selected to develop and administer this program.† At these centers, a victim is able to get a restraining order, undergo a forensic exam, obtain legal advice, speak with a chaplain, and meet with a victim advocate, all at one location. ††The family justice center concept embodies the coordinated community response.† Itís an idea whose time has truly come.
OVW made awards to 15 sites around the county and those communities have been working very hard to get their centers off the ground.† In the past two months, three family justice centers have opened:† In Brooklyn, NY; Bexar County, TX; and in Alameda County, California. At the press conferences announcing their openings, I had the privilege of reading a personal congratulatory letter from President Bush and presented a special commemorative plaque from OVW.† The energy and enthusiasm surrounding each opening has been spectacular.† I am thrilled to announce that we will be opening the family justice center in Ouachita Parish, Louisiana this month!† We expect that several additional centers will open by yearís end.
In September we announced the very first round of awards for the Transitional Housing Grant Program, our newest grant program.† Forty-nine states and 1 territory received funds to develop new or enhance existing transitional housing programs.† In addition to housing services, these grantees will link domestic violence victims with such vital resources as job and computer training, transportation, parenting classes, legal assistance, peer support, and spiritual guidance.† Counselors will help women and children identify their unique needs, establish goals, and measure successes.† Our goal is to empower domestic violence victims so they can develop the self-sufficiency to live violence-free.
In my travels, I have had the opportunity to observe the unique challenges faced by rural communities in their efforts to develop a coordinated community response to domestic violence.† In response, OVW is dedicating much needed resources to assisting these communities in helping them build their capacity to develop effective services and programs to keep victims safe and hold offenders accountable.†
Under one such special initiative, OVW has awarded $4 million to faith-based and community organizations serving rural victims of domestic violence.† Because victims of domestic violence often seek the comfort, guidance, and assistance of faith-based and community organizations, OVW seeks to promote greater and more equitable participation of these organizations so that these victims may be more effectively served.†
We would not be successful in our endeavors if it were not for the amazing law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, advocates, chaplains, medical professionals and other community leaders who have dedicated their lifeís work to ending domestic violence in this country.† †We are indebted to them for their tireless commitment to this issue.
In observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I encourage all Americans to speak out on behalf of domestic violence victims everywhere.† It is through open and honest dialogue that victims will feel compelled to come forward and ask for the assistance they need to live independent and violence-free lives.† It is up to us to listen.