Thank you, Sue [Carbon]. Let me also thank your team in the Department’s Office on Violence Against Women – as well as my colleagues in the Office of Justice Programs, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and the COPS Office, and our partners from the Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies – for your work in bringing us together today.
This is an extraordinary group. And it’s a pleasure to welcome this circle of law enforcement officers and judges, attorneys and advocates, nonprofit leaders and health experts, researchers and policymakers, and social workers and service providers, to the Department of Justice.
On behalf of the entire Department – and on behalf of Secretary Sebelius, who, unfortunately, could not be with us today – thank you all for being here. Your presence today – and your participation on this National Advisory Committee – is encouraging. And it’s so important.
Though you represent many different areas of expertise, each of you has one thing in common: a commitment to protecting the safety, and potential, of our young people, especially our young women and girls. This is critical work – and the challenges that young people across the country now face could not be more urgent.
In America today, more than three out of five children have been exposed to crime, violence or abuse – in their neighborhoods, in their schools, or in their own homes. Almost forty percent of children have been direct victims of two or more violent acts. And approximately 10% of adolescents nationwide report being the victim of physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner.
Teens who experience dating violence are more likely to suffer long-term negative behavioral and health consequences, including suicide attempts, eating disorders and drug use. And we’ve seen that adolescents in abusive relationships can carry these unhealthy patterns of violence into future relationships.
We cannot ignore these consequences. And we must break this cycle.
Today, we can all be encouraged that the Obama Administration is committed to engaging a broad spectrum of community partners to help stem teen dating violence and safeguard our children. This is a Cabinet-level priority. But Secretary Sebelius and I recognize that, in meeting the goals and responsibilities that we share, government can’t do it alone. To succeed in assisting and empowering young women and girls, we need your help. And we’ll be relying on your guidance – and your commitment to collaboration.
We’ve learned that – in combating youth violence and preventing teen dating violence – doctors can inform the work of teachers, researchers can broaden the perspective of lawyers, and social workers can educate judges.
I think that Amber Johnson, a 16-year-old youth advocate from Providence, Rhode Island – and the youngest member of this committee – put it best when she explained why, in addressing youth and teen dating violence, policymakers must start examining legal, educational, and health systems together.
“You guys would be amazed,” she said, “at how much this stuff is intertwined.”
Amber is right. We know that girls can’t do well in school when they are unhealthy or in danger. We know that emotional stability is the foundation for academic success. And we know that greater access – to information about the warning signs of violence and to medical and legal services – can be critical to ensuring justice.
So, I am deeply grateful for your willingness to come together, to take on this new challenge, and to help inform and advance the work that the Departments of Justice and HHS are leading.
For me, the issue of children’s exposure to violence has been both a personal and professional concern for decades. As our nation’s Attorney General, and as a parent of two teenage daughters, addressing violence rates – and implementing bold, innovative and collaborative solutions – is a top priority.
That’s what the National Advisory Committee – and today’s meeting – is all about. By working together, I believe we can empower adolescents to understand and to develop healthy relationships before violence and abuse can begin. And I am confident that we can help more young people identify signs of abuse, and assist them in locating services.
These are the goals of this Committee – goals that I’m hopeful we will come closer to meeting today, as we work toward the creation of a strategic, comprehensive action plan. In this effort, your insights and expertise are critical. And I look forward to hearing from – and working with – you all.
Once again, I want to thank you – for your service, for your enthusiasm, and for your vision of a world where our young people, especially our young women, are no longer exposed to violence.
I am grateful, and proud, to call you my partners. And I look forward to what we will accomplish together.