Justice News

Remarks as Prepared for Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli at Sexual Assault Awareness Month Event
Washington, DC
United States
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Monday, April 12, 2010

Good afternoon, I invite you all to stand for the singing of the National Anthem by our own Rhea Walker from the Office of Justice Programs.

Thank you Rhea, and thank you all for joining us today. I am Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli and I want to welcome you this afternoon as we commemorate Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Today’s event is part of our year-long effort to commemorate the enactment of the Violence Against Women Act. 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. I applaud you for your work then and now to keep the momentum going. 

But I also know that sexual assault has not always been given the attention it deserves by the Department. I would be remiss if I did not point out that in the 15 years since the Department’s Office on Violence Against Women was created, this is in fact the first Great Hall event recognizing this month. This is due in no small part to the leadership within this Department, and especially this Attorney General, to ensure that sexual assault survivors and victim service providers have a place – and a voice – in this Department. 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. 

As part of my job, I oversee our grant-making programs for state, local and tribal law enforcement.  That includes the the Office on Violence Against Women, which administers critical funding to victim service providers and programs across the country.  As I noted, last September September marked the 15 year anniversary of President Clinton signing VAWA into law.  As the date approached, it became clear that we needed to do more than a press release or event.  This was a moment in time for the Department and Administration to send a clear signal that the issue of violence against women is a priority.  That is why we at the Department launched a year-long initiative to raise public awareness, build stronger coalitions among federal, state, local and tribal communities, and redouble efforts to end sexual assault, domestic and dating violence, and stalking for men, women and children across the country.

But as we said from the beginning, this year is not merely a commemoration of an anniversary. It is a time to recommit ourselves to ending sexual and domestic violence. Our government and this Department have a responsibility to speak out and act on issues of violence against women. Far too many communities in the United States and around the world are affected by this issue and it must stop. One of the messages that we have sought to carry throughout the 15th anniversary of VAWA is that sexual and domestic violence are not just issues for the victim, or his or her family. They are everyone's problem.  It cannot be the work of the Department of Justice alone, or the criminal justice system, or state government.  Leaders at all levels in the public and private sectors and each community must take an active role in defining their response to sexual assault and domestic violence. Communities must do a better job of educating themselves about the motives behind domestic and sexual violence, the prevalence of rape, the need for services and support to victims, and the necessary criminal justice response to these crimes.

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. This includes as a priority dealing with the prevalence of sexual violence in tribal communities, which has had a devastating affect on families for generations. 

I have said that I believe that we are at a critical point to make a real and significant difference on this issue. And for me, that has been marked this year by a number of “firsts.” Our Great Hall event is only one of a number of “firsts” we have taken to elevate the issue of sexual assault and violence against women. 

Our first-ever public awareness campaign has created new alliances and partnerships, and engaged nearly every Justice Department official and U.S. Attorney. For the first time, we have reached out to celebrities, including more than 100 sports figures, musicians and actors in a “Join the List” campaign to help raise awareness through popular culture.

For the first time last month, the Department launched a nationwide college campus tour by top department officials to raise awareness of violence against women and especially the problem of sexual assault on college campuses. Throughout the month of March, nine members of the Department’s leadership – including myself – visited 11 universities around the nation, including public, private and faith-based institutions, a Historically Black College and University and East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma, home to the Choctaw Nation. I know not all of these officials were able to join us today, but I’d like to ask those who have to please stand and be recognized.

This is an issue I personally care deeply about, and I have been so impressed to see and hear from so many other administration officials about their level of commitment. Looking out in the audience today, I know that many of you may hear things in our program for the first time and be confronted with alarming realities that others in the audience deal with on a daily basis. That we are all here together, joined by the Attorney General, is a testament to the fact that this issue is about every single one of us. And with that, I’d like to introduce the Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder.

Thank you Mr. Attorney General. Your leadership and support in our efforts to raise the profile and level of awareness on this issue have been absolutely critical to our work.

I’d like to share a few more “firsts” with you. As many of you know, President Obama became the first American President to proclaim April 2009 as National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, as he did again this year. The President has also 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. 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.

Last summer, the Vice President also announced the appointment of Lynn Rosenthal as the first-ever White House Advisor on Violence Against Women. Lynn is with us today, and I want to thank her for bringing the weight of the White House with her to the many VAWA events she has attended at the Department. Lynn has been at the table with us as we work to strengthen our partnerships with federal agencies such as the Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, 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. 

That brings me to our next speaker. This is the first Great Hall event for our new Director of the Office on Violence Against Women.  We have been so excited to welcome Sue Carbon to the Department and to OVW.  Sue brings with her not only an impressive level of enthusiasm, but a wealth of knowledge from her years on bench.  I am so glad that Sue is here to help steer OVW’s future. And with that, I give you Susan Carbon.

But wait – I have more “firsts!” Under Catherine Pierce’s leadership as Acting Director of OVW, the office created a new Sexual Assault Demonstration Project to enhance sexual assault services in primarily rural areas throughout the nation this year. This is the first-ever demonstration project that deals exclusively with providing sexual assault victim services. Demonstration initiatives have a special significance for OVW and the Department as a whole. They are generated by input from the field and are designed 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. 

As the Attorney General mentioned, Catherine has been with the Office on Violence Against Women since its creation. She has been an advocate, a leader, and a friend to me personally and to this department.  And while those of you in the field know what an asset she is to the sexual assault community, I want to take a minute to thank her for everything she has done to help us steer our year-long campaign, and to ensure that the sexual assault community has a front row seat at the table as we work to deal with issues around violence against women. May I introduce Catherine Pierce.

I want to thank all of our presenters for having the strength to share your stories and help us understand the devastating impact that sexual assault has on men, women, boys and girls throughout the country.

I know this has been a hard journey for victims and advocates in the sexual assault community. I know how hard you all are still working – for funding, for recognition, and for a voice. Know that we are continuing efforts to ensure funding for grant programs while recognizing the challenges of our economic climate.  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.

Thank you.