Remarks as prepared for delivery
Good afternoon, and thank you, Bea, for that kind introduction and for your commitment and all of the hard work of the Office on Violence Against Women. It’s an honor to join you and our distinguished panelists and guests here to commemorate Domestic Violence Awareness Month and to discuss experiences implementing a historic provision of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA 2013).
The month of October is observed as Domestic Violence Awareness Month around the country by advocates, law enforcement, prosecutors, survivors and many others to raise public awareness about domestic violence. Under the leadership of Attorney General Loretta Lynch and her predecessor, Attorney General Holder, the department has made ending violence against women a top priority. We have also seen strong leadership from the Vice President and from our many partners throughout the federal government. Some of the federal employees most committed to this work are in the audience today and I want to personally thank you for your efforts.
Although we’re proud of what we’ve accomplished, we’re also keenly aware of how much we still have to do. When one in four women suffer severe physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner, we cannot rest.
Today’s event highlights the department’s commitment to working with our tribal partners to fight the scourge of violence against Native women. In a few moments, you will hear from representatives of the Pasqua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona and the Tulalip Tribes of Washington, including former Vice Chair Deb Parker, about their experience implementing the special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction provisions of VAWA 2013. I want to thank them for their leadership in making their tribes two of the first three tribes in the country to exercise criminal jurisdiction over non-Indian offenders in the modern era. The department has worked closely with these tribe and today’s event is another step in the department’s ongoing effort to help tribes across the country make full use of this authority.
I also want to recognize Deb Parker, who, by bravely sharing her own personal story, was instrumental in persuading Congress that it needed to address the jurisdictional gap that had left so many Native women unsafe in Indian country.
It’s also a particular pleasure to welcome my friend and predecessor, Tom Perrelli, back to the department. Tom is a passionate advocate for ending domestic and sexual violence and he is equally dedicated to bringing justice to Indian country. Through his efforts here in the department and later before Congress, Tom championed the legislation that would become the tribal provisions of VAWA 2013. I don’t believe I exaggerate when I say that we would not be having this panel discussion today had it not been for Tom’s vision and steadfast determination.
Just as the pilot tribes have been working to hold non-Indian abusers accountable, we at the department have stepped up prosecutions of felony-level domestic violence offenders in Indian country. VAWA 2013 gave federal prosecutors new tools to address violence against women in Indian country. In particular, VAWA 2013 modernizes the Federal Criminal Code by providing robust federal sentences for certain acts of domestic violence in Indian country, including a ten-year offense for assaulting an intimate partner by strangling or suffocating. It is critically important to respond forcefully to these crimes, because almost half of all domestic violence victims have experienced at least one episode of strangulation before a lethal or near-lethal violent incident. These are high-risk offenders – and we can save lives by prosecuting them.
After passage of VAWA 2013, the department sponsored training on public safety in tribal communities at our National Advocacy Center and throughout Indian country. And our U.S. Attorneys are making good use of their ability to bring more serious charges. Over the past three years, federal prosecutors have indicted nearly 100 defendants on strangulation and suffocation charges and we expect that number will continue to grow.
Just last week, in the District of New Mexico, a member of the Laguna Pueblo was sentenced to 51 months in prison for attempted manslaughter, assault of an intimate partner by strangling, and child abuse. Duane Day assaulted his intimate partner, a Laguna Pueblo woman, by strangling her, causing her to lose consciousness and later to suffer a severe stroke. U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez for the District of New Mexico reports that, after recovering from these life-threatening injuries, the victim now “is a survivor who is using her voice to help other women who are victims of domestic violence.” Significantly, the case was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney David Adams, a former tribal prosecutor who first joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque, New Mexico, through a program funded by the Office on Violence Against Women. This Tribal Special Assistant U.S. Attorney project is another shining example of a federal-tribal partnership that is making enforcement more effective in Indian country.
Now, it is my honor to introduce the 83rd Attorney General of the United States, Loretta E. Lynch. A lifelong prosecutor, Attorney General Lynch has long been a champion for public safety and protecting victims’ rights throughout her tenure as the U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of New York and in her contributions to Department Policy when she was Chair of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee. And under her leadership as the Attorney General, the department remains committed to ensuring the safety, security and sovereignty of American Indian and Alaska Native communities throughout the United States – and in particular to fighting violence against women. It is my great pleasure to introduce Attorney General Loretta Lynch.