Justice News

Attorney General Eric Holder Speaks at Domestic Violence Awareness Month Event
Washington, DC
United States
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Monday, October 19, 2009

Remarks as prepared for delivery.

Good afternoon, and thank you, Tom, for that kind introduction.

So often we have gathered here in the Great Hall to celebrate various events – cultural heritage months, awards ceremonies, or orientation programs for brand new employees at the Department of Justice. We even had a military promotion ceremony here a few weeks ago with General Petraeus.

Today’s event, however, represents a different kind of gathering. This is not a typical celebration. Rather, it is a commemoration as we observe Domestic Violence Awareness Month. But, in a certain sense, we still do have cause to celebrate. For today we honor the lives of domestic violence survivors, we salute their strength and their courage, and we applaud the knowledge, awareness, and action that will help prevent future victimization.

In July, I visited SHAWL House in San Pedro, Calif. There I announced the first of many Recovery Act grants through the Office on Violence Against Women’s Transitional Housing Assistance Program. 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.

In just a few moments, survivors of domestic violence, as well as advocates who provide essential services to domestic abuse victims, will share their experiences with you. Their stories will explore, explain and illustrate this difficult issue more than any of my words possibly could.

I urge you to listen closely to these presenters. And I urge you to join me in not only honoring their triumphs over abuse, but also their willingness to share their experiences in an effort to help increase awareness about the devastating effects of domestic violence and sexual assault.

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.

While women are by no means the only victims of domestic violence, the facts are clear – women are most often murdered by people they know. In 2007, 64 percent of female homicide victims were murdered by a family member or intimate partner. By comparison, 16 percent of male homicide victims were murdered by a family member or intimate partner. Disturbingly, intimate partner homicide is the leading cause of death for African-American women ages 15 to 45.

The numbers are similarly staggering when it comes to children’s experiences of domestic violence. According to a survey released two weeks ago by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1 in 4 children are exposed to some form of family violence in their lifetime.

These numbers are shocking and unacceptable.

As a judge in D.C. Superior Court, I saw first-hand the suffering and long-term trauma experienced by those affected by domestic violence. As the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, I created the first Domestic Violence Unit in that office’s history. As Deputy Attorney General during the Clinton Administration, I helped launch the Department of Justice’s Children Exposed to Violence Initiative, as well as the Safe Start Initiative. And now, as Attorney General, I am committed to reinvigorating our work on these important issues.

We know that the most vulnerable in our society often bear the greatest burden in times of economic hardship. That’s why the Recovery Act included $225 million in grants through the Office of Violence against Women to expand efforts to combat violence against women and to invest in the lives of those who have been victimized and remain vulnerable. These vital funds will be used to support programs like SHAWL House and to help women like Gabby.

But we also know that money is not enough. This is why today’s dialogue must also lead to action. The kind of real, concrete action that impacts the lives of those most at risk and that otherwise might be broken.

We know that violence in the home doesn’t just impact individuals and families. It devastates entire communities because it is a precursor to so many other forms of violence. When children witness or experience violence in the home, it affects how children feel, how they act, and how they learn. Without intervention, children are at higher risk for school failure, substance abuse, repeat victimization, and perhaps most tragically, perpetrating violence later in their own lives.

We know that we must be open to new ideas and approaches. We must learn from each other what has worked – and what has not. We must acknowledge the great cultural diversity in our country and rise to the challenge of providing services that are truly culturally and linguistically relevant. We must dare to think differently and we must value innovation.

As a father of three children, I recognize that change has to come from within families as well. We all need to be role models and mentors for our children so that they have the best chance of living in violence-free communities and families.

None of us can solve this crisis alone. But by working together, by using every tool at our disposal and by refusing to ever back down or give up, we can make a real difference in our homes, our communities and in our nation.

Thank you.

PLEASE NOTE : These remarks, as originally delivered in 2009, cited a statistic naming intimate partner homicide as the leading cause of death for African-American women ages 15 to 45. This statistic was drawn from a range of reputable sources, including a 2003 study by the National Institute of Justice . However, recent figures indicate other causes of death—including cancer and heart disease—outrank intimate partner homicide for this age group.