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Remarks by Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli at the 2009 Office on Violence Against Women National Rural Conference
NEW ORLEANS, LA. ~ Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Remarks as prepared for delivery.

Thank you Catherine - I know you will all get a chance to hear more from Catherine during this Conference and I don’t have to tell you what an asset she is to the rural 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 Ellen Pence, Executive Director of Praxis International, and her terrific staff. Praxis has served as an OVW technical assistance provider for the Rural Program since 1998 and was instrumental in developing the National Rural Conference. I also want to recognize Mary Claire Landry and the New Orleans Family Justice Center. I understand that the Family Justice Center will be hosting a tour and open house for all of you on Thursday night, and though I won’t be able to join you, I know all too well how important their work to build coalitions in this area has been for the entire region. Thank you for all that you continue to do in the face of budget cuts and an unstable economy.

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 – or OVW – 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 heard that this Conference was going on, I was very enthusiastic about coming to speak with you. Part of my role at the Department is to think outside the box to get things done. So it’s only appropriate that I address a room full of people tasked with thinking innovatively about how you approach prevention and intervention. So let me repeat the charge – be creative, learn from each other, and most importantly, develop and identify the skills you need to help you do your job better. We are counting on you and the critical services you provide.

But I don’t issue that challenge without some support to back it up. I am proud to announce today that OVW has awarded $32.9 million in grants to rural communities this fiscal year. President Obama’s Recovery Act gave us access to additional funds for rural communities as well. OVW distributed more than $134 million in Recovery Act awards to states, territories, and state coalitions to support comprehensive strategies addressing violence against women, over $20 million in Recovery Act awards to tribal governments to address violent crimes committed against Indian and Native Alaskan women, and more than $42 million in Recovery Act awards to support transitional housing assistance for victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking. A sizeable portion of these funds will be used to address violence against women in rural communities across the country, including some of the communities represented here today. I know you are doing what you can with the funding you have – and I know that it’s not enough. But as I stand here today, we are continuing to fight for you as we plan for FY2010 and beyond.

Last month marked the 15-year anniversary of President Clinton signing the Violence Against Women Act – or VAWA – into law. We at the Department have planned 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 fought tirelessly for federal legislation to mark the importance of this issue and to back it up with vital resources. Some 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 rural communities are sometimes neglected. You face a very different set of challenges than your colleagues in the field. For you, sometimes the question of providing medical care to victims is not a matter of minutes, but hours. Removing a woman or child from an abusive home can require snow or heavy-duty equipment. And we also know that what works for some communities will not work for all. Native villages in Alaska need different resources than elder communities in West Virginia; migrant farms in Texas have different needs than tribal reservations in the Great Plains. I am here to tell you that this Department of Justice and this administration are committed to ensuring that these issues are elevated in importance in matters of policy and funding resources. We have heard your concerns and are working to provide you with the help you need.

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, including some in this room, who pushed for this project behind the scenes to ensure that the voices of domestic violence and 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 violence against women 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 domestic and 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 have completed preliminary sessions and meetings, and are getting ready for our Tribal Nations Listening Conference in Minnesota later this month. 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 about bringing everyone to the table. 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 domestic and 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 domestic violence, sexual assault, the prevalence of rape, the need for services and support to victims, and the necessary criminal justice response to these crimes.

I know this has been a hard battle. And 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 that domestic violence, sexual assault, teen dating and stalking 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 fear of physical or sexual violence in our homes, in our relationships, and in our communities. We are not done fighting for you and with you.

 

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