Justice News

Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli Speaks at the National Sexual Assault Conference
Alexandria, VA
United States
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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Thank you Catherine, for the kind introduction. I know you all heard from Catherine at the start of this Conference and I don’t have to tell you what an asset she is to the sexual assault community. What I have to tell you, though, is what an asset she is at the Department of Justice. Many of you have known Catherine for years, and her dedication not just to the Office on Violence Against Women but to bringing together the best minds and the greatest available resources for victims’ services cannot be overstated. She has already made a difference at the Department, and I look forward to our continued partnership.

Before I begin my remarks, I want to thank Delilah Rumberg of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and Karen Baker of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, and their staff, for inviting me to this important Conference this afternoon. Both organizations have been stalwart partners in elevating the national importance of ending sexual violence in our communities, through resources, technical assistance to grantees, and working with the Office on Violence Against Women and our Office on Justice Programs as national experts for many years.

I know that many of you have spoken of the loss of Gail Burns-Smith, and I would be remiss to not acknowledge her as well. For too long, sexual assault victims have had to fight for a voice, even within the violence against women community. Gail was one of the strongest and most determined voices, and her loss will be felt by all of us who are passionate about this cause and about taking care of the men, women and children who are victims of sexual assault.

As Catherine said, I serve as the Associate Attorney General, the third-ranking official in the Department of Justice. As part of my job, I oversee the Department’s civil, civil rights, tax, antitrust and environmental litigating divisions, as well as all of our grant making programs for state, local and tribal law enforcement. That includes the Office on Violence Against Women, which administers the grant programs on which so many of your programs rely. I am honored to speak with you today, and to bring with me the support of Attorney General Holder and this administration. Violence against women is an issue I personally care deeply about, and it is one of the many areas where I believe that we are at a critical point to make a real and significant difference.

When I say that we are in a place to make a difference – I’m talking about an opportunity for action. Next week will mark the 15 year anniversary of President Clinton signing the Violence Against Women Act – or VAWA – into law. We at the Department are planning a year’s worth of activities meant to raise public awareness, to make sure that survivors everywhere know that they have a place – and a voice – in this administration, and to build toward what we hope is greater funding and program opportunities in the VAWA reauthorization in Congress in 2010.

Without a doubt, VAWA never would have happened, from creation to passage, without the steadfast commitment and work of the countless advocates, coalitions and community partners who advocated tirelessly for federal legislation to mark the importance of this issue and to back it up with vital resources. Many of you are in the room today, and I applaud you for your work then and now to keep the momentum going. But I also know that sexual assault has historically been under-represented within VAWA, and I am here to tell you that this Department of Justice and this administration are committed to ensuring that sexual assault is fully elevated in importance in matters of policy and funding resources.

We will mark this year with our renewed dedication. We want to use this year not merely to commemorate an anniversary, but to recommit ourselves to ending domestic violence and sexual assault. The U.S. government and the Department of Justice have a responsibility to speak out and act on the issue of sexual assault. Far too many communities in the United States and around the world are affected by sexual violence and it must stop. We are committed to this cause and will work with state, local and tribal partners to ensure that all communities – particularly those that have been chronically neglected – are given the resources and support they need.

I think we were all inspired when President Obama became the first President to proclaim last April as National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The proclamation identified the need for “ increased awareness about this issue [to] prevent future crimes, and aid victims.” This is the blueprint we carry with us. And this is not the only “first.” The President has undertaken an unprecedented effort in our nation’s history to bring the concerns of women and girls to the forefront of U.S. government policies and decisions through the creation of the White House Council on Women Girls by executive order earlier this year. The Council involves 23 cabinet level agencies and the White House to ensure that all policies factor in how they affect women and girls. We at the Department are an active partner in the Council, and we bring with us your stories, your concerns and your strategies as we look forward to elevate critical issues of sexual violence.

As you know, the Vice President also announced the appointment of Lynn Rosenthal as the first-ever White House Advisor on Violence Against Women this summer. Lynn comes from the field of victim advocacy and services, and her perspective is critical to federal efforts to end violence against women. I have met with Lynn several times and look forward to our work to revitalize the country’s movement to end violence against women.

We’re also looking at “firsts” at the Department. As some of you heard from Catherine on Tuesday, OVW will launch a Sexual Assault Demonstration Project to enhance sexual assault services in rural areas throughout the nation this year. The Demonstration Project focuses on enhancing sexual assault service delivery provided by agencies that are dual in nature – focusing on both domestic violence and sexual assault.

Demonstration initiatives have special significance for OVW and the Department as a whole. They are generated by input from the field and intend to respond to the needs of communities and find ways to strengthen their partnerships. In this case, the Sexual Assault Demonstration Initiative will enable an effective model program for dual service providers to provide comprehensive victim services to both victims of domestic and sexual violence. And most importantly, the Initiative will provide the most promising practices for replication and much-needed services to survivors throughout the country.

While I wish we could take credit for it, the truth is it was the advocates in this room who pushed for this project behind the scenes to ensure that the voices of sexual assault victims and advocates were heard. I want you to know that this is not lost on me, on the Office on Violence Against Women, or on the Department. You have fought alone for many years – and I am here to tell you that we have listened and we are putting plans into action.

There’s another first that I want to talk about. We all know that sexual violence not only affects the actual victims, but has a devastating impact on the broader community. Listening to the complex needs of the communities, and recognizing their unique responses, is perhaps the most important thing we can do at the Department. We acknowledge, as you do, that we must tailor our approach to dealing with violence as no one model exists.

For example, we know that sexual violence is a devastating problem in Indian Country. I have been honored to help lead an initiative at the Department with the Deputy Attorney General to go out into Indian Country and begin building comprehensive proposals to aid justice efforts. We are currently holding some preliminary sessions that will lead up to a Tribal Nations Listening Conference in Minnesota in October. This is the first time all three of the Department’s leaders will be in Indian Country to address issues of law enforcement, resources and particularly domestic and sexual violence against women, men and children.

We know that part of this community outreach is also bringing everyone to the table. Sexual violence is not just an issue for the victim, or his or her family. We believe the community must be involved in addressing the needs of survivors and holding offenders accountable. It cannot be the work of the Department of Justice alone, or the criminal justice system, or state government. Each community must take an active role in defining their response to sexual violence. And I know you agree that we all must do better. Communities must do a better job of educating themselves about the motives behind sexual violence, the prevalence of rape, the need for services and support to victims, and the necessary criminal justice response to these crimes.

Similarly, as communities look to strengthen their partnerships, the Department of Justice must also look to strengthen our partnerships with federal agencies such as the Departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Labor, and others. We know that only by working together and coordinating within the federal family, can we truly make a change across the country. As we look forward to commemorating the 15th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act with our partners, there is no better time to renew our commitments and strengthen our partnerships – with one another, and with our federal leaders and representatives.

I know this has been a hard battle. I know how hard you all are still fighting – for funding, for recognition, and for a voice. Know that we are continuing efforts to increase funding for grant programs while recognizing the decline in our economy and the federal purse. VAWA is a testament to your advocacy in action and a promising vision to end the trauma sexual assault victims experience in the aftermath of an assault. We at the Department share your vision where men, women, boys, girls and communities can live in a world without the fear of sexual violence. We are not done fighting for you and with you.