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Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West Speaks at the Defending Childhood Task Force Meeting


Detroit, MI
United States

Good morning. Thank you Mary Lou for that kind introduction. When it comes to this issue, there's nobody who better combines the tenacity of a prosecutor with the dedicated persistence of an advocate and we all benefit from her commitment.

I also want to thank Melodee Hanes for her words, her leadership and her energy in this effort; Barbara McQuade, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, who is an invaluable partner not just in this work but in fulfilling the Justice Department's mission at every level; and my colleagues from the Office of Justice Programs, COPS and the Office on Violence Against Women who laid the foundation for this initiative years ago and continue to vigorously carry this effort forward at every turn.

Let me begin by bringing greetings from the Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder, who wanted me to be sure to express his appreciation to the Task Force. You know, I think we are very fortunate to be led by an Attorney General who truly "gets it."

He's made this issue a priority for the greatest and one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the world. And he is absolutely grateful for your dedication and humbled by your willingness to give so generously of your time.

And it is fitting that we meet here, in the great City of Detroit, to hold the final hearing of this Task Force, because this city is engaged in groundbreaking work to confront and curb youth violence, including two Administration-led initiatives to create safer neighborhoods for our kids: the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention and Strong Cities, Strong Communities.

And we are particularly pleased that Police Chief Godbee, who has been an exemplary leader, could be here with us today.

When it comes to violence, the challenges our children face are clear. We know that over 60 percent -- regardless of race – are exposed to some form of violence, crime, or abuse.

Whether it's at home, in school, on the streets, or online, our children are witnessing and experiencing intolerable levels of violence.

We also know that understanding the nature and extent of children’s exposure to violence is essential to effectively combating its effects.

And that's why I’m pleased to announce that with the support of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we are releasing new data in a bulletin entitled: “Child and Youth Victimization Known to Police, School and Medical Authorities.” It's a long name with a very straightforward purpose: This bulletin tells us when children report violence, what type of violence and to whom.

And what have we learned? We've learned that while more children are reporting violence to authorities, at rates higher than they did 20 years ago, too many continue to endure the pain of victimization in silence. For example:

While authorities knew about a majority of serious victimizations, including incidents of sexual abuse by an adult, gang assaults, and kidnappings, they were mostly unaware of other kinds of serious victimizations committed by peers, such as dating violence or rape by a peer.

We learned that in connection with episodes of children witnessing domestic violence, only about half of those episodes, were known by school, medical or law enforcement authorities.

And when it came to certain groups of victims -- like boys, Hispanic youth, or youth from higher socioeconomic statuses -- we learned that authorities were much less likely to know about them. The same was true, perhaps unsurprisingly, when the perpetrator of violence against a child was a family member.

Now, these statistics are difficult to hear for anyone who's ever advocated for, cared about or hugged a child. But they are important for us to know.

They're important because they illuminate the areas where we need to do more work; where we need to bridge the gaps that still exist between our partners in schools; our partners in law enforcement; our partners is medicine.

Because when we bridge those gaps, we ensure that resources get to the children who need it the most.

And bridging those gaps is the ultimate goal -- our collective goal -- for Defending Childhood.

So let me close by thanking you for the extraordinary dedication you've demonstrated to this effort. You are an exceedingly impressive group. As individuals, each of you has made important contributions.

And over these past 6 months, each of you has amplified your personal commitment by coming together to work as a team.

And like the tiny ripples of hope that Attorney General Robert Kennedy spoke of a generation ago that combine to create waves of change, you are making a difference that will change our understandings; improve our responses; and give renewed hope to young lives across this country.

So thank you for lending your voices to this national call to action and thank you for your commitment to this cause.

Updated December 16, 2016