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Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West Speaks at the
Department of Justice Sexual Assault Awareness Month Event


Washington, DC
United States

Good afternoon. Bea, thank you for that introduction and for your outstanding leadership on this issue.

It is my pleasure to welcome each of you to today’s event to commemorate Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Let me thank the staff of the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) for their hard work to plan this event and for the work they do everyday to ensure we continue to highlight the issue of sexual violence.

I'm honored to share the stage with Bea Hanson and the OVW Associate Director, Michelle Brickley, as well as our guest speakers, Indira Henard from the DC Rape Crisis Center and M.E. Hart from the Hart Learning Group. Indira and M.E., we appreciate your being here and for all you are doing to give survivors a voice and for raising awareness about sexual assault.

This month is an invitation. It’s an invitation for us to stand together and confront the enormity of sexual violence; to re-dedicate ourselves to bringing justice to victims and their families; to break the silence and to redouble our efforts to hold perpetrators of sexual assault accountable.

And it’s important for us to accept that invitation, because sexual assault is a complex crime, one that affects every sector of our society. It respects no boundaries of gender, geography, race, ethnicity, class or sexual orientation. It affects each of us – victims and non-victims alike – and it’s up to all of us to take affirmative steps to end it.

Here at the Justice Department, we are fortunate to be led by an Attorney General who, from Day One, has been committed to taking those steps, to prioritizing sexual violence and to raising public awareness about the issue.

Since 2009, OVW has awarded a record number of grants – totaling more than $1.5 billion – to states, territories, local and tribal governments, and nonprofit organizations that seek to launch, sustain, and strengthen activities related to combating violence against women.

Because we know that sexual assault patients living in rural areas have limited access to trained medical service providers, the Office of Justice Programs, Office for Victims of Crime is supporting an innovative pilot project that will provide live access to Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners, or other expert medical examinations through a national telemedicine center, giving both help and hope to rural victims of sexual violence.

And three months ago, this Department took the important – and long-overdue – step to amend the Uniform Crime Report’s definition of rape. I don’t have to tell you how significant this action was. By revising the definition used by the FBI to collect information from local law enforcement about reported rapes, we will receive more complete data about – and therefore a clearer picture of – sexual assault, and that will enable us to more effectively combat and prevent these devastating crimes.

So there’s no question that we’ve made important progress. But as we come together to commemorate Sexual Assault Awareness Month nearly two decades after the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was first passed, we know that our task is not finished. We know that today, as the Vice President often says, 1 is still 2 many. And we’re reminded, as Congress moves to consider reauthorization of VAWA, that we have much work left to do.

We’re reminded that young women still face the highest risk of dating violence and sexual assault; that of the more than one million women who suffer rape each year, one in four will be victimized while they’re in college; that over 500,000 women will be raped by an intimate partner, not a stranger; that Native American women face higher rates of sexual assault than almost any other demographic group – something the current proposed VAWA reauthorization seeks to address.

We are reminded, as Bea noted, that sexual violence claims both women and men, and that nearly 30 percent of male rape victims suffered victimization when they were 10 years old or younger.

And we’re reminded that African American women – the focus of today’s program – are particularly vulnerable. One in five will experience rape at some point in her life. And for every black woman who reports a rape, there are 15 more who suffer in silence; who go without services; who forego reporting to law enforcement, perhaps out of fear they won’t be believed, they won’t find help, or that the criminal justice system will fail to hold their perpetrators accountable.

And I have to tell you: As a father to a smart and talented daughter; as the older brother to two magnificent sisters and brother-in-law to a third; as an uncle; as a son; as a husband; as one whose life is enriched daily by a constellation of amazing African American women and girls, this issue isn't just some abstract policy debate to me; it’s personal.

And I know it's the same for you – it’s personal. That's why you're here. Because this issue isn’t about someone else. It’s about our mothers and our sisters; our wives and our daughters; our partners and our friends. It's about our community and our relationships. It's about us – each one of us.

And I want to thank all of you for coming together to help us embrace that reality. So my thanks to all of you for being here today and for your continuing commitment to this cause.

Updated September 17, 2014