Significant Speeches

Remarks of the Honorable David J. Hickton
United States Attorney For The Western District of Pennsylvania
at the
Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh Business Meeting

Rivers Club
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
February 14, 2012

Thank you, Sara, for that gracious introduction. You are well recognized among your peers as one of the best lawyers in this region and your professionalism, your civic contributions and our friendship have all been blessings to me.

It is an honor to be invited to be here today and to be offered the opportunity to speak to you about the critically important issues of domestic and sexual violence. The President, Vice-President, Attorney General and the entire United States Department of Justice, including the United States Attorneys, are in partnership with all of you and committed to the mission of identifying, reducing and hopefully eliminating this problem. We appreciate and applaud your vitally important, compelling work.

I remember the formation of the Women’s Shelter in 1974. At that time, my Dad, Jack Hickton, was the District Attorney of Allegheny County. One of his first initiatives was to prioritize the prevention of rape and he created a “Rape Squad” of prosecutors and professionals to prosecute sexual assault and to help the victims. In those days, he was criticized for replacing prosecutors with “sociologists.” In fact, he was ahead of his time.

If I remember correctly, the Women’s Center and Shelter and Pittsburgh Action Against Rape (PAAR) were formed in 1974 as pioneering domestic and sexual violence organizations, bringing together qualified and caring professionals to deal with the full spectrum of harm due to domestic violence. You are pioneers. You are heroes and your work is earthly ministry.

In recognition of the severity of the crimes associated with domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking, Congress first passed the Violence Against Women Act in 1994. Passed with broad bi-partisan support, and sponsored by then-Senator Biden, VAWA was borne of a grassroots movement that exposed our response to violent crimes against women as woefully inadequate and morally reprehensible. VAWA firmly established that our government, and the Department of Justice in particular, bear responsibility to speak out, to act and to provide leadership and support in the efforts to end violence against women.

Since 1994, we have witnessed a sea-change and paradigm shift in how communities respond to sexual violence, domestic violence and stalking. Domestic violence is no longer a “family matter” that lurks in the shadows of our lives. VAWA combined strict criminal penalties to prosecute offenders with aid to every jurisdiction. Grants encouraged the development of a coordinated community response, enlisting law enforcement, victim advocates, prosecutors, judges, health care professionals, probation and corrections officials, the faith-based community and survivors of violence. Since its passage, more than $4 billion has been awarded to communities across the nation.

The Violence Against Women Act also created the Office on Violence Against Women, currently headed by Susan Carbon, who is a valued friend and learned partner in our work together. A former judge, Susan’s relentless commitment is inspiring, and we were pleased and honored to work with her in the successful effort to revise the Uniform Crime Report’s definition of “rape,” Which now includes victims of either gender, encompassing instances in which the victim is incapable of giving consent because of temporary or permanent mental or physical incapacity, including due to drugs or alcohol or age. We can anticipate more comprehensive and accurate reporting of sexual violence nationwide in the future.

This was a long overdue victory which also sends a message to the broad range of rape victims that they will be counted and supported.

Despite progress in raising consciousness and achieving a cultural transformation in how we regard domestic and sexual violence, the sad reality as demonstrated by recent statistics is still difficult to fathom. We know that unacceptable levels of violence and victimization persist; that women are most often victimized by people they know; and, that women are most often murdered by a family member or intimate partner. Disturbingly, intimate partner homicide is the leading cause of death for African American women aged 15 to 45 years of age.

As a resource, I refer you to the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey published by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. This comprehensive work reveals the scope of the problem. Among the findings were:

  • More than 1 in 3 women (35.6%) and one in 4 men (28.5%) have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
  • Approximately 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men in the US have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime.
  • More than half of female victims (51.1%) report being raped by an intimate partner and 40.8% by an acquaintance; among men, half (52.4%) reported being raped by an acquaintance;
  • 1 in 6 women (16.2%) has experienced stalking victimization at some point, fearing or believing that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed.
  • Two-thirds (66.2%) of female victims of stalking were stalked by a current or former intimate partner; men were also primarily stalked by an intimate partner or acquaintance.
  • Nearly half of all women in the US have experienced at least one form of psychological aggression by an intimate partner during their lifetime, with 4 in 10 reporting some form of aggressive expression, or some form of coercive control.

The CDC Survey also shows that victimization starts at a surprisingly young age. 80% of female victims experienced their first rape before the age of 25, and almost half experienced the first rape before the age of 18. 28% of male victims were first raped when they were 10 years old or younger.

The numbers are similarly sobering when it comes to children’s experience with domestic violence. A survey by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention found that 1 in 4 children are exposed to some form of family violence in their lifetime. When children witness or experience violence, it affects how they develop, how they learn and how they behave. Without intervention, children are at higher risk for school failure, substance abuse, repeat victimization, and perhaps most tragically, perpetuating violence later in their own lives.

We can and must do better.

The problems we face cannot be solved by government alone. I know there are many business leaders here today who actively support the vital work of the Women’s Center and Shelter. Thank for your commitment and support. You surely recognize that behind every statistic is a mother, daughter, sister, friend, employee or colleague. We also know that in times of economic hardship the most vulnerable in our society often bear the greatest burden. Domestic violence is not a women’s issue, but one that wholly affects the economy and security of our nation, and every nation.

So what can we do?

While we will be relentless in enforcing the laws, it is clear that we cannot prosecute our way to a solution. We need community-based efforts, including public and private partnerships, to solve these complicated and costly challenges. We know that we must be open to new ideas and approaches, and must form new coalitions to bring about change. We must dare to think differently, innovate and adapt our strategies to the changing nature of the crimes. We must learn to communicate with each other more effectively and faster. We can support the good work of the Women’s Center and Shelter and other groups which, in a moment of despair and darkness, extend a caring hand and change and preserve lives.

I look forward to continuing our work together toward a shared vision of communities that are free of violence.

Thank you for your support.

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