Thank you, Diane, for that introduction. Many of you already know what a great job Diane does as the leader of our Office for Violence Against Women. I’d like to thank her – and by extension her entire team – for their important role in this initiative…and the countless ways they support victims across America each and every day.
It’s a pleasure to join all of you for the opening of this Family Justice Center.
Thank you, Mr. Mayor, for welcoming me to St. Louis. As we drove here from the airport, I couldn’t help but notice the renewal and renovation here in the Gateway to the West.
But this kind of renewal is about more than bricks and mortar, it’s about people. It’s about giving people a sense of home and a source of pride.
And that is what this Family Justice Center is about as well – helping people renew and rebuild.
With this new Center, victims of domestic violence will be able to come to one central location for comprehensive support when they need it most. They will be able to see a lawyer, talk to the police, file court documents, receive a medical exam, speak with a counselor or therapist…even consult a chaplain for prayer or guidance.
The circumstances that lead someone to seek the services of this Family Justice Center are often traumatic… finding help shouldn’t compound the problem. But in the past, it has.
Dawn Hutchcraft knows how hard it can be to find the help you need. She came home to St. Louis with her son to get away from an abusive husband in Florida. As he continued to threaten her, Dawn had to navigate a complicated legal and emotional maze on her own. As she said of that difficult time, “There’s so much going on, it is hard to grasp it all.”
She spent countless hours on the phone looking for answers from government agencies and many days and weeks rebuilding her life here in St. Louis with the help of lawyers, advocates, and counselors. Traveling across town for meetings, and across the country for court proceedings, she found shelter, she found a job, and she found the support groups and legal assistance she needed to begin a new future for her and her son.
So you can imagine what Dawn thought of the idea to house all the support services she needed during that time in one location. You can imagine what her journey might have been like without the hundreds of phone calls, or the searching and waiting for answers.
When Dawn participated in a focus group for the development of this Family Justice Center, she immediately understood it as a place for “victims to get the help they need, when they need it.” Just as important, Dawn said that this Center would be a place for “victims to feel safe and navigate things with people who understand.”
This Center was built by people who understand…people like Dawn and many others with stories like hers. Dawn is here to help inaugurate the center she wished was here during her moment of need. And she’s making sure that others are not neglected. The Legal Advocates for Abused Women, which will now serve victims as part of the Family Justice Center, helped Dawn with court proceedings and legal paperwork. Today, she serves on the board of this important group.
Dawn, thank you for inspiring America’s armies of compassion to help others in our communities. It is that spirit of service that brought so many partners together to form this Family Justice Center – and others like it in communities across the country.
When President Bush announced a $20 million initiative to create Family Justice Centers in fifteen communities, he expected that it would begin a “national movement” of compassion for victims of domestic violence. As you’ve heard, the formula was simple: open a full-service center and stop the run-around. As the President said, “There’s a better way to do this.”
But many of you here today know that executing that formula is not always easy. It takes time. It takes commitment. And it takes a singular focus on a common goal. The creation of this Family Justice Center required new partners to overcome old turf battles. It required professionals with narrowly focused skills to blend their expertise into a broad coalition of compassion.
The list of agencies and organizations participating in this center shows that you’ve been successful here in St. Louis. You’ve created communal turf…so everyone can battle together for what matters most – the health, safety, and support of domestic violence victims.
We’re doing our part to try to reduce the number of victims and hold offenders accountable. In addition to the efforts of local prosecutors, the United States Attorney’s Office aggressively pursues federal prosecutions for these kinds of crimes. If we can prevent women and families from ever needing the services of this center in the first place, we’ll be doing our job as well.
But as long as there is a need, it is important that you stay together as this Center becomes a vital part of the community. Many victims will come to rely on the services and support they find here at the Family Justice Center, and I urge the community of St. Louis – both the public and private sectors – to continue to embrace this Center in the future.
So far, five Family Justice Centers like this one have opened their doors – this is the sixth – and are currently serving victims from New York to Oakland to my home town of San Antonio. And nine more are scheduled to open as part of President Bush’s initiative. We hope that these centers will serve as models for other communities to duplicate across the country.
When President Bush announced the funding for the Family Justice Center Initiative at the White House, he lamented that victims of domestic violence “too often suffer in secret and in silence.” Victims face so many challenges: legal obstacles, emotional scars, practical difficulties such as child care, shelter, and transportation, and plenty of pain.
Dawn Hutchcraft has taught us that we cannot leave victims to make it through a confusing and overwhelming process on their own. And no one agency or corporation, no single group or organization can get the job done alone either. This Family Justice Center is built on partnerships and teamwork, common goals and uncommon compassion.
Together, you’re sending victims and important message – they aren’t on their own. Thank you for helping to ensure that no victim will feel alone in St. Louis.