Department of Justice Seal

Remarks as Delivered by Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey at the National Organization for Victim Assistance Conference

Louisville, Kentucky
Monday, September 29, 2008 - 9:00 A.M. EDT

Good morning. As you know, I had planned to join you in person at this important conference, but business matters in Washington prevented me from doing so. I'm sorry not to be with you, but I am grateful for this chance to speak with you briefly by video, and I look forward to other chances to meet and work with you all in person.

The work that you do on behalf of crime victims in your communities is public service of the highest order. So before I go any further, I want to thank you for your work to help protect the rights of all victims.

At the Department of Justice, we are well aware that a crime does not end with the commission of that crime. The crime victim continues to suffer during the investigation, during the trial, and in many cases for years afterward. Although our system is designed to bring justice through the application of the law, that system isn't always easy on the victim.

But the justice our system provides must include the victims of crime not as a matter of grace but as a matter of right. Over the past generation or two, there has been a broad effort to ensure that that happens. The National Organization for Victims Assistance has been vital to that effort, and I commend you for that.

The effort continues with conferences and training sessions like this one. These are opportunities for you on the front lines to develop your skills, to connect with your colleagues and peers, and to draw inspiration that will sustain you for the sometimes difficult work ahead.

For our part, the Department's recent accomplishments in protecting the interests of crime victims are substantial, and I want to mention just a few of them.

Last August, we announced our first payments under the International Terrorism Victim Expense Reimbursement Program, which was set up to help pay expenses for victims of terrorist acts committed abroad. The first payments went to aid victims of the bombings in Bali, Indonesia in 2002 and in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 2003.

We have made progress in fighting identity theft and in helping victims of that crime. The financial toll of identity theft can be crippling, and, as many victims will tell you, it is often accompanied by great emotional distress. Last December, we announced millions of dollars in grants, to provide direct assistance to victims of identity theft and fraud, through efforts like legal assistance and counseling.

The Department also has expanded its support for nine legal clinics around the country that provide direct pro bono representation to victims in state, federal, and tribal criminal courts. The work of these clinics can be invaluable in guaranteeing that the rights of those victims are not overlooked but are preserved during the judicial process.

These are just a few examples of how the Department of Justice is helping crime victims and their families. They are examples, also, of the victim-centered approach that we bring to this work.

The mission of the Department is not simply to catch and to prosecute criminals, although it certainly includes those things. Our job is to deliver justice. I often remind people that the Department I head, and the building in which I sit is called the Department of Justice, not the Department of Law. And, for justice to be meaningful, it has to include a remedy for those who have been wronged by the people we catch and prosecute.

In your, and our, work with victims, that means exactly what the theme of this conference suggests: turning survivors into thrivers. It includes concrete steps to ensure that the people victimized by crime are treated as people, not just as evidence in an investigation.

A crime is often a quick, discrete act - a shot fired, a purse snatched. But the effects can linger, with hours and days spent in hospital beds, or on the telephone trying to rebuild a stolen identity. A single drug sale on a single street corner is momentary. But the cumulative loss, as a neighborhood devolves into an open-air drug market, can persist for a generation and beyond.

So our work cannot stop at the recognition that a crime has happened, or with the apprehension of the criminal. It has to include whatever help we can offer to the reconstruction of victims' lives. I'm not speaking here only of the Department of Justice; I'm speaking, more broadly, about the need for all of society to recognize the value of what you do, in helping to rebuild the lives of the victims you serve.

When a hurricane hits, the government rushes to help. But so do non-profits like the Red Cross. And so do church groups and Boy Scout troops and individual families and neighbors. It's what Americans do. The same thing has to happen in the case of the small, individual hurricanes that strike crime victims, thousands of times every day, all across this country. Not just the dramatic cases that play on cable news, but also the other cases that never get reported or noted.

I know that you are well aware of this already. But I say it for two reasons. First, I want you to understand that the Department of Justice stands by your side, and that we want to do all we can to help groups such as the National Organization for Victims Assistance to work on behalf of victims. And second, I want to thank you, once more, for the work that you do.

I'm proud of the fine work done by the men and women of the Department of Justice, and of the dedication they bring to their work. And I am grateful for the work of all of you. In this mission, as in all of our efforts, we depend upon our partners in the community and in law enforcement at the state and local levels. We can't do the job alone, and we don't pretend that we can.

You deal with some of the most wrenching of human experiences. You have chosen a vocation that brings you into daily contact with tragedy, but you do it willingly to help others.

I thank you, all of you, for the important contributions you make, and I thank you for inviting me to be a part of today's event.

Thank you very much.