Thank you, Mary Lou, for those kind words, and for the outstanding work that you and your team are leading at the Office of Justice Programs.
It is an honor to take part in this ceremony once again. And I want to thank Joye and her colleagues at the Office for Victims of Crime for bringing this extraordinary group of allies and advocates together; for organizing this week’s events; and for their commitment, and expertise, in supporting victims’ services year round.
It is a privilege to stand with you today, and to join with so many critical partners – including United States Attorneys Walker, of the Eastern District of North Carolina, and Machen, of the District of Columbia – who have been instrumental in advancing the Justice Department’s efforts to protect the most vulnerable among us; to prevent and combat crime, violence, abuse, and exploitation; and to help victims seek justice, find hope, and rebuild their lives.
Today, because of many of the people in this very room – and thanks to the dedicated work of senior Department leaders like Acting Associate Attorney General West, Director Jarrett, and Director Alexandre; and partners like Chief Postal Inspector Cottrell – these efforts have never stronger. And I’m particularly grateful for all that this year’s National Crime Victims’ Service Award recipients have helped to achieve.
This year’s 12 awardees have helped change the course of recovery for survivors of sexual assault; created one of the first state corrections-based victim assistance programs in the nation; and promoted awareness of – and improvements to – federal victims’ rights laws.
You have fought to end the repugnant practice of human trafficking, empowered hundreds of young women to leave the commercial sex industry, and helped them access the tools and services they need to get back on track and reach their full potential. You’ve sought restitution and healing for people whose lives – and financial security – have been devastated by crimes ranging from identity theft to homicide. And – in big cities and small towns across this country – you have worked to ensure that some of most vulnerable members of society – including young people, the elderly, and the LGBT community – obtain the assistance they need without bias, without prejudice, and without delay.
Perhaps most impressively, many of you have achieved these results by transforming your own experiences into a positive force for sweeping change. All of you have touched, improved, and even saved, lives. And every one of you deserves the commendation that is being bestowed this afternoon – not only for your remarkable contributions, but also for the examples you’ve set for others to follow.
On behalf of President Obama and our colleagues across the Administration – and particularly our nation’s Department of Justice – I’d like to thank you for your advocacy, your creativity, and your dedication. For the profound difference you’ve made in the lives and circumstances of so many Americans. And, most of all, for leading the fight to fulfill our country’s founding promise of equal justice under law – and helping to honor the principles that have always defined our history, and must shape our future.
Especially in light of the theme of this year’s National Crime Victims Rights Week observance – “Extending the Vision, Reaching Every Victim” – today’s awards ceremony represents an important opportunity to shine a light on the groundbreaking work that has enabled us to reach those who are unable – or afraid – to ask for help. In this time of economic challenges – when so many private, nonprofit, and advocacy organizations have been forced to cut back, and government budgets at every level are on the chopping block – I believe that successes like the ones we celebrate today have never been more important to highlight. And the lessons they reveal have never been more valuable.
But I also want to assure you – and so many others, in and far beyond this room, who stand on the front lines of this struggle – that, although you are helping to lead some of our most effective and promising efforts, you are anything but alone. Across this Administration, you have strong allies. And today’s Justice Department – and certainly this Attorney General – will remain committed to supporting your critical work.
This commitment is clear – and it’s one we’re backing up with decisive action. Over the past year, I am proud to report that the Department – led by our Office for Victims of Crime – has provided significant investments in order to help build successful crime prevention and victims’ services programs all across the country. For the first time in its history, OVC funded two projects – in Philadelphia and New York City – that will improve our ability to reach young African American men and their families, who are often disproportionately victimized. Through our Enhanced Collaborative Model to Combat Human Trafficking, we’re supporting six anti-trafficking Task Forces – and, this year, we will add an additional seven. At the center of each Task Force are victim-serving organizations that provide trauma-informed, culturally-competent services to those who are trafficked for sex, labor, or financial gain. And thanks to an initiative known as the American Indian and Alaska Native Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner and Response Team – which we established in 2010 – we’re bringing key agencies like the FBI and the Indian Health Service together to address the comprehensive needs of sexual assault victims on tribal lands.
By helping to identify – and institutionalize – effective, sustainable, and evidence-based practices, we’re assisting tribal communities with addressing a problem that has reached crisis proportions. By strengthening relationships between and among government officials and service providers at every level, we’re enhancing our ability to learn from one another and to share information and best practices. And by focusing our efforts on the communities and the organizations that can develop the most promising innovations – and achieve the best outcomes – we’re stretching every precious taxpayer dollar, and amplifying the impact of every resource we can bring to bear.
Already, it’s clear that this approach is paying dividends. As Mary Lou just mentioned, OVC’s Vision 21 initiative is leading us into a new era of victims’ services. In October of last year, OVC joined with the Maryland Crime Victims’ Resource Center to establish the National Identity Theft Victims Assistance Network Project – which provides technical expertise and support to coalitions that improve services to victims of identity theft, including the elderly – many of whom suffer devastating losses and must endure a significant emotional toll. And, as many of you already know, OVC and the National Institute of Justice are currently accepting applications for a grant award of up to $3.5 million, for the purpose of establishing a national telemedicine center – and four pilot sites – to provide expert guidance to medical practitioners who perform sexual assault forensic examination.
These investments will allow us strengthen the essential work that’s underway – in communities across America – to support and defend victims of crime. And they will enable us to build on the meaningful, measurable progress that each of today’s awardees has helped to make.
But, as I’m sure everyone here will agree, we cannot yet be satisfied. And we can never afford to become complacent.
As this year’s theme reminds us, there is significant progress we have yet to make – and countless victims who remain in desperate need of our help. So – as we come together to look toward the future of these efforts – know that your contributions, your innovations, and your leadership are more important than ever. Keep standing up for – and reaching out to – those who are at risk. And, no matter how daunting the challenges may seem; no matter how dire the threats may appear – never lose faith in your ability to make a positive difference, and your capacity to drive the improvements that victims deserve.
As I look around this room, at so many passionate advocates, committed partners – and distinguished awardees – I cannot help but feel optimistic about where your efforts will lead us from here. I am hopeful about all that we can – and will – achieve together. And I am grateful for – and inspired by – the extraordinary examples we have to guide us along the way.
Once again, thank you for the opportunity to take part in today’s ceremony.
Congratulations to the 2012 National Crime Victims’ Service Award winners – keep up the great work.