Good afternoon. My name is Tom Perrelli, and I am the Associate Attorney General of the United States. As the third ranking official at the Department of Justice, my responsibilities include overseeing our grant making programs for state, local and tribal law enforcement. That includes the Office on Violence Against Women, which administers critical funding to victim service providers and programs across the country.
I am honored to stand here with Senators Crapo, Whitehouse and Lieberman to shine a spotlight on the critical issue of teen dating violence. For the first time, this crime is being commemorated as "National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month," instead of a week. This is no small feat, and I commend these Senators and their colleagues for its unanimous passage earlier this week. Finally, teen dating violence is being given parity among the other three crimes authorized as part of the Violence Against Women Act – or VAWA. And while I stand here in the hope that one day we will put an end to all four crimes – sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking and teen dating violence – the Department will use the month of February to raise awareness regarding teen dating violence and to provide opportunities for schools and communities to protect young people.
Violence against women and children 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. This September marked t he 15 year anniversary of President Clinton signing VAWA into law. We at the Department have embarked on 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 a future where teen dating violence, domestic abuse, sexual assault and stalking are eradicated.
But this year cannot just be an anniversary – it must be a call to action, and that is how we at the Department are viewing it. We want to use this year to recommit ourselves to ending violence against women. Our government and this Department have a responsibility to speak out and act on issues of violence against women. This administration has committed itself to thinking outside the box – to bringing in new ideas, and new coalitions, to bring about change. It’s time to examine what we’ve done right, and more critically, what we’ve done wrong. Far too many communities in the United States are affected by this issue. We are committed to working with federal, 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.
Violence against women is the seed to so many other forms of violence, and continues to have devastating effects on entire communities. And teen dating violence affects our most vulnerable – our young children – many of whom do not know how to identify, prevent or report incidences of teen dating violence. We know that a child who feels threatened cannot thrive at school or at home. How can we encourage our children to strive for the best, when they are afraid of who will be at their locker when they get out of class, or what might be waiting for them as they walk home after school?
Recently, the Attorney General and Secretary Arne Duncan sponsored a conversation with the Boston teenagers and others from different parts of the country who work on promoting healthy relationships in their own communities. These kids were so impressive. In response to a question "why should this be a top priority?," one student explained, "You guys would be amazed at how much this stuff is intertwined," adding that kids can’t do well in school when their outside lives are unhealthy. Work on the social and emotional parts of a child’s life, she said, and academic success can follow.
We must do better – and we must do this work together. We must involve our federal, state, local and tribal partners as well as individual communities. Communities must be involved in addressing the needs of our young people 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 stalking.
We at the Department share a vision where men, women, boys, girls and communities can live in a world without the fear of violence. Today, we take another step towards raising awareness and the profile of teen dating violence. If we’re going to do this, we are going to have to do it together. Thank you for taking yet another step in that commitment today.