Thank you, Sue, for that kind introduction. It’s an honor to join you and all the distinguished panelists and guests who are here today to commemorate Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I’m pleased that this Administration has made ending domestic violence a priority – from the strong leadership of the Office of the Vice President, to the hard work of the Office on Violence Against Women, the U.S. Attorney's Offices, the FBI, ATF, staff here at Main Justice, and our federal agency partners.
The tragedy of domestic violence affects not only the immediate victims, but their families, neighbors, friends, and indeed entire communities. It touches the lives of people from every background, ethnicity, age, ability or sexual orientation.
Despite significant progress, still one in four women and one in thirteen men will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. On average, three women in America die each day as a result of domestic violence. This is unacceptable, and we must do better. During Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we must recommit ourselves to the critical work still before us.
Attorney General Holder and I believe that it’s essential for the Department of Justice to lead the effort toward understanding how we can better serve victims of domestic violence, and how to prevent these terrible crimes from occurring in the first place. This is especially true with respect to domestic violence homicides.
The double tragedy of deaths due to domestic violence is the realization that in many cases, they could have been prevented. There is a growing consensus among researchers and practitioners that domestic violence homicides are predictable and thus often preventable.
The patterns are chilling. Perpetrators of these crimes often have a prior history of domestic violence. Most women who are killed by a current or former spouse or domestic partner had been subjected to attempted strangulation, threats with weapons, stalking, sexual assault, and obsessively jealous and controlling behavior by their killers. So by the time abuse escalated to homicide, it is likely that someone in the family, the neighborhood, or the perpetrator’s or victim’s workplace was aware that something was terribly wrong.
As shocking as it is to know how predictable these terrible crimes are, this same information provides hope that real change is possible. That’s why we’re working aggressively to identify these risk factors and improve a community’s response when those factors are present. The Department’s Office on Violence Against Women has been using Violence Against Women Act funds to support domestic violence fatality review teams. These teams examine domestic violence homicides in order to identify commonalities and fill any gaps in the response efforts that may put victims at risk. By bringing together a wide range of professional and community members, these teams can discover ways to prevent these homicides in the future. These teams and other interventions have been credited with helping to reduce the number domestic homicide fatalities.
The Violence Against Women Act, of course, provides the framework for our efforts. This landmark legislation reflects the consensus that as a nation, we must do everything we can to address this problem. Since its enactment nearly two decades ago, the Act has provided support for survivors of domestic violence and helped to reduce the intolerable number of Americans who are killed by an intimate partner.
The Act created a comprehensive approach to violence against women by combining law enforcement and prosecution strategies that hold offenders accountable, along with programs to support the victims of such violence.
Violence Against Women Act funding has played a critical role in building a coordinated community response. That response, in turn, has changed the civil and criminal justice systems for the better – encouraging victims to file complaints, improving prosecution of sexual assault and domestic violence cases, and increasing the issuance and enforcement of protection orders. The increased availability of legal services for victims seeking protection orders has made it easier to obtain such orders when they’re needed, and actually helped reduce domestic violence and improve the quality of victim’s lives. And finally, setting up specialized domestic violence prosecution programs has boosted rates of successful prosecutions. The impact of these changes is real.
Research and experience since VAWA was first enacted make clear that while we have accomplished much, we can do even more to prevent domestic violence homicides. As we approach the statute’s next reauthorization, it should be a priority not only to reaffirm each of the law’s existing protections, but to ensure that it includes the strongest possible provisions to prevent deaths from domestic violence. The statute should be strengthened to reflect what we’ve learned about domestic violence homicides.
Finally, the reauthorization should address the very serious problem of domestic violence in Indian Country by recognizing certain tribes’ power to exercise concurrent criminal jurisdiction over domestic violence cases on tribal lands, regardless of whether the defendant is Indian or non-Indian. It should also ensure that tribal courts have full civil jurisdiction to issue and enforce domestic violence protection orders; and it should strengthen the Federal criminal code to address the most egregious acts of domestic violence. These and other proposals will help bridge existing gaps so that violence against Native American women can truly be reduced, and lives can be saved. We look forward to working with Congress when it takes up the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization.
Over the years we have worked hard to bring the problem of domestic violence out of the shadows. We have shined a spot light on it, studied it, and taken major steps toward dealing with it, not only as a law enforcement issue, but as a community issue. While we have made great progress, there is still so much to be done. National Domestic Violence Awareness Month is a time to focus on this issue, but let’s not forget that this is a problem we need to deal with twelve months a year.
I thank each of you for being here today, and especially thank our guests, who will share with us their own experience, research, and work in this area. We look forward to continuing our work together so that we can not only reduce domestic violence, but end it.