Yesterday, the Office on Violence Against Women, along with many of our STOP State Administrators, joined survivors, advocates, law enforcement officers, government officials, and countless others in communities and campuses nationwide for Denim Day 2015. Denim Day originated in the 1990s in response to the Italian Supreme Court’s reversal of a rape conviction in which the Chief Judge argued: “because the victim wore very, very tight jeans, she had to help him remove them, and by removing the jeans it was no longer rape but consensual sex.” People wore jeans to work on the established “Denim Day” as a way of protesting the verdict. Since then, Denim Day has become a national rape prevention campaign.
As we come to the end of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, it is important that we continue to join together to raise awareness, educate our communities, support survivors, and hold perpetrators accountable. As President Obama stated in his National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month Proclamation, “It's on all of us to work for the change we need to shift the attitudes and behaviors that allow sexual assault to go unnoticed, unreported, and unpunished.” To that end, we are excited to announce a new Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) special project to promote justice for sexual assault victims and accountability for offenders.
The Sexual Assault Justice Initiative (SAJI) is an opportunity to improve how the justice system in general, and prosecution in particular, handles sexual assault cases. Through the SAJI, OVW will identify ways to enhance prosecution strategies by developing performance measures that look beyond conviction rates to track prosecutorial success, reflect best practices for prosecuting sexual assault that hold offenders accountable, and give victims the justice they deserve.
At OVW, we know that only a fraction of victims report their assaults to law enforcement, and, of the victims who do report, as many as half or even more will likely see their cases dropped during the investigation or prosecution phase. We also know that sexual assault cases can be difficult to prosecute, which is why OVW created the SAJI.
We plan to release a competitive funding announcement in late spring inviting applications from prosecutors’ offices across the country that are interested in adopting the performance measures, implementing best practices for prosecuting sexual assault, and using victims’ perspectives to inform their work. With funding from this initiative, AEquitas: The Prosecutor’s Resource on Violence Against Women will work with OVW and experts in the field to develop the performance measures and help the pilot sites implement them. With AEquitas and the pilot sites as our partners, we look forward to crafting solutions to persistent challenges that leave too many victims without justice.
In addition to the prosecution-focused work, sites will be able to use the funds to strengthen other services in their communities that support sexual assault victims. OVW anticipates selecting up to eight sites to receive two-year awards of up to $400,000 each.
In keeping with our commitment to evaluating the effectiveness of VAWA programming, we are partnering with the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) to assess the impact of these new indicators on case retention and attrition, charging decisions, case dispositions, and victims’ and other stakeholders’ perceptions of retributive, restorative, and procedural justice. NIJ released a funding announcement for the evaluation of the Sexual Assault Justice Initiative on February 27, 2015. Applications are due today. We encourage anyone who is interested in learning more about the evaluation to read the NIJ solicitation.
OVW is excited to share this news and looks forward to working with AEquitas and the selected sites to strengthen the justice system’s response to sexual violence. Additional information about the SAJI, including the competitive solicitation, will be posted on our website as it becomes available.
We are pleased to announce the Sexual Assault Justice Initiative as part of our ongoing effort to ensure justice for survivors of sexual assault—a priority that has held the unwavering support of President Obama and Vice President Biden. Together, we will continue to build a future free of sexual violence.
To learn more about the challenges of prosecuting sexual assault and the ways conviction rates fail to measure prosecutorial success, see Beyond Conviction Rates: Measuring Success in Sexual Assault Prosecutions, available from AEquitas: The Prosecutor’s Resource on Violence Against Women.
If you or someone you know needs help, you are not alone. You can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline, operated but RAAIN, at 1-800-656-HOPE, or chat with an advocate online through the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline. Check the NSVRC Resources page for news, publications, and links to other services organizations.