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Blog Post

Message from Director Carbon: September 2011

Dear Friends and Colleagues, As I write this message, it is a quiet Saturday morning in DC.  I know (as you probably have observed) that I have missed my target of posting a message at the beginning of the month.  I was, as I hope many of you were, enjoying an end-of-summer vacation with my husband and others in my family, a luxury these days.  Living in DC and commuting home on weekends, when the opportunity allows, is a challenge, and I am ever mindful that my husband is making a big sacrifice for me to be here, and him there.  He knows how grateful I am to him, but more importantly, knows how important this work is.  And I couldn’t be more reminded of that as we approach “our” anniversary, September 13th. Three days from now we will be celebrating the 17th Anniversary of the historic passage of the Violence Against Women Act.  Thanks to the unyielding focus of now Vice President Biden and many of his colleagues in Congress, a remarkable and groundbreaking piece of legislation has transformed our nation’s response to the tragic crimes of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and dating violence.  Hundreds of thousands of victims have benefitted, and their lives forever changed because of the resolve and commitment to end violence demonstrated not only by Congress, but by all those who have worked so hard over the past 17 years to implement this legislation in their crisis centers, police departments, emergency rooms, prosecutors’ offices, courtrooms and communities.  We are a different country than we were 17 years ago. But we cannot “rest upon our laurels” and let slide the progress we have made, or think for one moment that we don’t need to maintain our vigilance.  We have an ethical duty, a responsibility to our friends, family, colleagues, communities, strangers, people from all walks of life in every corner of this country, to continue and broaden our efforts to end violence against women, children and men.  Sadly too many continue to be victimized; and as new professionals and volunteers enter the field, we need to ensure that they have access to the best practices and  training as we are faced with new challenges and tools of abuse. Over the past couple of years, we have embarked upon the development of a new program to broaden the reach of those working to end violence against women by engaging men and boys to work together as allies with women and girls.  This is the first time in the history of OVW that a grant program focuses primarily on the prevention of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking by acknowledging the critical role men and boys play in addressing these issues.  That, along with the program's focus on the creation of public education campaigns through the work of community-based organizations in collaboration with local community partners, has resulted in a great deal of interest and excitement from the field and potential applicants.  At the end of last month, we held our first New Grantee Orientation for our Engaging Men grantees.  Twenty-three sites were awarded in this first round.  The energy and passion of the teams from these very diverse organizations was palpable.  Their drive and dedication to ending violence has elevated the discourse around these difficult issues.  With men as partners in this work, we have the potential to reach men and boys in new and creative ways, implementing programs most relevant to them and their communities. This week we punctuated our work around ending sexual violence specifically by hosting a Sexual Violence Research Roundtable with the National Institute of Justice, one of our Department of Justice colleagues.  The idea for this roundtable grew out of last October’s first-ever White House Roundtable on Sexual Violence in the United States.   The partnership of NIJ with OVW enabled us to bring together an extraordinary group of practitioners (representing medicine and healthcare, law enforcement, the judiciary, prosecution and advocacy communities) with some of the finest researchers in the country to help us frame research priorities for the short- and long-term.  We spent two days discussing what John Laub, Director of NIJ, has coined “translational criminology”, the art and science of bridging research with practice in a way that enables practitioners to use good research in their daily encounters.  I recall my own frustrations as a judge, receiving lengthy (and statistically-loaded) research papers, wondering when I would have the necessary time to digest the findings before being able to apply them into my daily dockets.  It was refreshing to see everyone at the table understanding the need for clear communication amongst us all, and a willingness to work together to enrich our collective endeavors.  As Sgt. Jim Markey of the Phoenix Police Department summarized so well, “Law enforcement is hungry, and research is our donut.  We want it – we want all of it!” We also spent a great deal of time talking about research that embraces the contexts of victim experiences – thus, qualitative as well as quantitative, and how vital it is to hear the voices and see the faces of victims and survivors.  I am forever impressed by and indebted to those survivors who have the courage and fortitude to speak out and teach us that which many of us, fortunately, have not had to experience ourselves.  I thank in particular Anne Ream and Karen Carroll for sharing their experiences with us.  One of Anne’s statements continues to resonate with me:  “In a moment of terror, you are so utterly transformed that you become a stranger to yourself.” This discussion evolved into a recognition of the reality that there is no one “standard victim” – nor “one standard response” to the crime of sexual violence, despite the continuing public perceptions that there is such a thing as “real rape” and a “real victim”, as if there were a corollary: that other forms of rape may not be real.  Judge Jerry Bowles from Kentucky offered an analogy he uses often in training judges and others across the country, an experience to which we can all relate.
Think of visiting a funeral home upon the death of a friend or family member.  Some guests will cry; others will laugh and tell jokes, remembering the good times; others will simply smile and embrace friends in a gesture of support; others will shut their eyes and hold their feelings close.  Despite how vastly different these reactions are, no one leaves the funeral home doubting that someone died.
We also discussed the need to have research that focuses on accountability – both of perpetrators for their crimes of sexual violence, and of system participants to do the best job possible to bring justice to victims.  We talked about what “justice” means.  We talked about the role of “gatekeepers” and how at various stages of the criminal justice system, attrition occurs because of the actions of those who control various parts of the process.  And we discussed how “discretion” is sometimes a pseudonym for bias.  That flowed into a discussion about attitudes – towards victims, towards offenders, how and why attitudes can (but don’t always) change, and how attitudes affect behaviors.  We concluded with a discussion about how rape victims, and women in general, are portrayed in the media, and what role degrading and pornographic images play in perpetuating complacent attitudes towards rape, if not perpetuating rape itself. This and so much more captured our attention and will be shared with the Department and Administration, and when a report is completed, will be posted on our website as well as NIJ’s. As we are about to celebrate the 17th Anniversary of VAWA, we are working on its third reauthorization.  We recognize the role of advocates who support victims of sexual assault and those who work with victims of domestic violence, as well as those who work in dual coalitions.  In early August we brought together leaders from these three constituencies, as well as some national leaders, to embrace the important work and speak with a united voice to end violence against women, in all its forms.  It was a rich discussion, and we at OVW are grateful for the time that everyone gave to us to make that meeting so powerful.  We look forward to continuing this discussion in the coming months. The next few days and weeks ahead are filled with great excitement and anticipation.  We are bringing our National Advisory Committee on Violence Against Women together again for their third meeting.  Later in the week we will be announcing the awards for our new Sexual Assault Demonstration Initiative (SADI).  As we recognize September as National Campus Safety Awareness Month, in early October we will be hosting the National Summit on Campus Safety for College and University Presidents where we will be talking with presidents from around the country about sexual assault and domestic violence on their campuses, and how their role as leaders of their institutions is so vital to ending these crimes.  And we will talk about the importance of supporting the research their faculty undertake to better understand and end these horrific crimes so that all campuses can be safe, and all students can achieve a superlative college career. Although I normally focus only on our work at OVW, I cannot let this message go by without acknowledging two significant events.   Tomorrow is September 11, the 10th anniversary of one of the worst tragedies our country has experienced.   Yesterday at the Great Hall of Justice, Attorney General Eric Holder gave voice to those whose lives were lost and to those who have survived, by honoring them in a very moving commemorative ceremony.  We cannot forget. The second is the opening of the Memorial here in Washington of Martin Luther King, Jr.  One of greatest non-work pleasures of living in DC is having a magnificent city in which to enjoy early morning runs, covering the monuments.  This morning I stopped, for the first time, at this new Memorial, dedicated while I was out of town.  One quote struck me as so relevant to our work:  "True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice."  We at the Department strive every day to find that justice, as I know you do as well. Let me close by thanking all of you, those I know and those I have yet to meet, for all the time and effort you expend day in and day out to end violence against women and to find the presence of  justice.  It is hard work; it is rewarding work; and together we can and will make a difference.  Let me also recognize and thank the staff at OVW for their tireless work in developing new and challenging grant programs to meet the ever changing and expanding needs of victims, selecting grantees, supporting them, developing creative projects like those I’ve mentioned here, working on the reauthorization of VAWA, and the countless other responsibilities they somehow fit into their schedules so that tomorrow, the world will be a different place, a better place.  I am indebted to you all and grateful beyond words. Susan B. Carbon Director Office on Violence Against Women U.S. Department of Justice
Updated April 27, 2017