This afternoon Justice Department leadership came together in a rare joint event to commemorate the Justice Department's recognition of October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Attorney General Eric Holder, Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden and Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli all delivered remarks at the ceremony to celebrate the work that has been done around the country to end violence against women and, more importantly, to discuss the work still left to do in order to end such violence once and for all.
Attorney General Holder began by speaking about a survivor he met while visiting SHAWL House, a women’s shelter in California.
At SHAWL House, I heard from women whose struggles and successes inspired me.
Every woman there had a compelling story to tell. One person I met there, Gabby, grew up in a household of drug users with an abusive father. She found herself in trouble from an early age as she became involved in abusive relationships with her partners, and she began using illegal drugs herself. After losing her four children and winding up on the streets, Gabby turned to SHAWL’s transitional housing facility. There she received the help she so desperately needed, got “clean,” graduated from the program, and turned her life around.
Gabby’s story – and the stories of others like her – illustrate how personal courage and community support can give survivors a chance at a fresh start and the hope of a bright future.
The Attorney General also stressed our responsibility to act:
But just listening to, and learning from, these women is not enough. We also need to take action, both in our personal and professional lives, to help others in our community who find themselves in this situation. We owe it to them. We owe it to ourselves.
Last year, there were over a half million non-fatal violent victimizations committed against women age 12 or older by an intimate partner. And more than 2,000 women and men were killed by intimate partners last year. These are not mere statistics we are talking about – we are talking about individual human beings: friends, colleagues, co-workers, neighbors, relatives. We should be appalled that this type of violence is visited upon them in this day and age. And we must do everything in our power to stop it.
Attorney General Holder, Deputy Attorney General Ogden and Associate Attorney General Perrelli all called on Americans to end the cycle of violence against women that affects too many families and too many communities around the country. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), signed into law in 1994, has provided significant support for survivors of domestic violence and helped to reduced the number of Americans who are killed by an intimate partner but that number that is still much to high.
There is still much work to be done. Deputy Attorney General Ogden focused his remarks on the prevalence of violence against women in Indian Country and our responsibility to address that problem:
There’s no doubt that we’ve seen significant improvements. The landmark VAWA was made possible through the tireless commitment of so many in this room. Since its enactment, VAWA has provided new support for survivors of domestic violence and reduced the intolerable number of Americans who are killed by an intimate partner.
But domestic violence continues to have a severe impact on our society, and we have much work left to do. So many women, men and children in our country – of every background, ethnicity, age, disability and sexual orientation – are damaged by this devastating crime.
I also want to focus on a particular aspect of the problem: Violence against women and children in tribal communities. Given the federal government’s trust responsibility and its unique authority to prosecute serious crime on tribal lands, this is a unique federal responsibility. The levels of violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women are shocking, and cannot be tolerated. Indeed, in some tribal land counties, murder rates for American Indian and Alaska Native women are 10 times the national average. As in many communities, poverty and lack of educational opportunities may both contribute to the scope of the problem and make it especially hard for victims to escape abuse.
Associate Attorney General Perrelli spoke about the Department's commitment to raising public awareness of violence against women:
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 a future where domestic abuse and sexual assault are eradicated...
...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 and sexual 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. 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.
The Associate Attorney General also thanked those who have lent their name to this important cause and "Joined the List," including the day's musical guest Marcus Johnson, event special guest Olympic Gold Medalist Dominique Dawes, and celebrities including Mariska Hargitay, John Lithgow, Wynton Marsalis, Faith Hill, Kyra Sedgwick, Omar Epps, Meryl Streep, Kevin Spacey, Ellen DeGeneres, Eva Mendes, Scarlett Johansson and Los Angeles Dodgers Manager Joe Torre.
The audience, arrayed in purple and sporting purple ribbons to honor Domestic Violence Awareness Month, also heard from Catherine Pierce, Acting Director of the Office on Violence Against Women, who detailed the tireless work that her office does to support victims of domestic violence around the country.
Additionally, survivors of domestic violence and advocates who provide support for victims shared their stories. These moving stories demonstrated violence against women can be debilitating, but with hard work and dedication, women can heal themselves and their families can recover. We'll be sharing those stories with you throughout the week.
The Department of Justice is committed to working with state, local and tribal law enforcement partners to end violence against women in America. We have a long way to go, but through the leadership of the Office of Violence Against Women, and the critically important work of thousands of advocates around the country, we will get there.
If you, or someone you know, are a victim of domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233), 800-787-3224 (TTY). For more information on resources that may be available to you, visit: http://www.ovw.usdoj.gov/hotnum.htm.