Justice News

Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West Speaks at the Y Factor: Men Leading by Example Event
United States
Thursday, April 12, 2012

Good morning. Thank you, Esta for that kind introduction and for being a tireless leader in this nation’s work to end violence against women and children. Esta and her staff at Futures without Violence have been invaluable partners to the Department of Justice for many, many years and I am grateful to be a part of this summit today.

I would also like to thank Ted and Cindy Waitt and the Waitt Institute for Violence Prevention for their visionary work in communities around the nation and for bringing us together today for this most important purpose.

It's great to be with you today, with so many individuals who are stepping up every day to the task of reducing and preventing violence against women and girls.

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 all of you for the work you’re doing to bring real, positive change to your communities.  Your voices have really made a difference.

When we survey the landscape around the country and see great efforts such as this summit taking place, it reminds us that in the 17 years since the Violence Against Women Act was first passed, we can truly say we've made great progress in the way communities respond to domestic and dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.

That Act was so important because it brought domestic violence and sexual assault out of the shadows and into the forefront of our national consciousness, changing the way gender-based violence is addressed in the United States.

It took a comprehensive approach to the issue, combining stiff penalties for offenders with critical programs to aid victims and prevent violence against women. And it invited us to work together, creatively across lines of gender, race, religion and class; encouraging local jurisdictions to bring together stakeholders from diverse backgrounds to share information and improve community responses.

But as reauthorization of that landmark piece of legislation is currently pending, we are reminded that we still have so much work left to do.

We are reminded that a third of women experience domestic violence in their lifetimes; that one in four will be raped while they are in college; that one in ten teens will be purposely hurt by someone they are dating; that before this day is done three more women will die from a domestic violence homicide.

These reminders are why curbing domestic and intimate partner violence and sexual assault remains an imperative that both the Attorney General and I are deeply committed to achieving.

Throughout my career I've been fortunate to hold many titles -- federal prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General, and now, as the number 3 ranking official in the Department of Justice, Acting Associate Attorney General -- but those pale in importance to the roles I play as father to a smart and talented daughter; as older brother to two magnificent sisters and brother-in-law to a third; as uncle; as son; as husband.

And when I think of these amazing women and girls who make up the constellation of my life, and then I think about the statistics I just cited which all of you know too well, it's clear to me that this issue isn't just some abstract policy debate taking place miles away in corridors most of us will never walk.

This issue is personal. And I know it's the same for you – it’s personal. That's why you're here. Because this is about our mothers and our sisters; our wives and our daughters; our partners and our friends.

It's about our community and our relationships. And that means it's about us. Each one of us. As well as, importantly, those of us who are men.

As fathers, grandfathers, brothers, mentors, coaches, teachers and community members — men's voices must be part of this conversation -- in our homes, in our communities, in our schools and houses of worship -- as men this is our individual and collective responsibility.

And the involvement of men in this issue can make a critical difference. A recent national survey found that 73% of men think they can help reduce domestic violence and sexual assault. And when it comes to determining how men will act, do you know what one of the strongest influences is? It's what men believe other men think.

And we know from research that most men incorrectly assume that many other men accept the use of violence in relationships. So that puts a premium on men to stand up and step out and be heard to say that violence against women in any form is unacceptable.

And that's why this Y Factor summit is so important, as we highlight men who are leading by example. That's why it's important to honor Willie Mays and Joe Torre -- heroes of mine and two champions who are as passionate about creating communities free of violence as they are about rounding third and sliding into home. We're grateful to both of these great men for their commitment and their example, because so many other men and boys are watching and what they do can make a huge difference.

And I want you to know that at the Department of Justice, we are standing with you in this important work. We are very fortunate to be led by an Attorney General who truly "gets it." And he has done something extraordinary: he's made preventing violence against women and children a top priority at the largest law enforcement agency in the world.

I think one of the best examples of this is the Attorney General's Defending Childhood Initiative, which is examining ways we can break the cycle of violence that plagues too many of our families and communities across this country.

Our own research tells us that a majority of kids – over 60 percent – regardless of race – are exposed to some form of violence, crime, or abuse, ranging from brief encounters as witnesses to serious violent episodes to being direct victims themselves.

And the research confirms what many of us already know: that when children are exposed to violence they are more likely to suffer from depression, alcohol and substance abuse, poor academic performance and sadly, are more likely to perpetrate violence themselves.

But the good news is that when we intervene with children, and when we do it early, we can help them avoid this fate. We can help prevent children’s exposure to violence in the first place by raising awareness and increasing knowledge, and we can help mitigate the harmful effects of exposure to violence through appropriate and early interventions when violence does occur. And that's exactly what the Defending Childhood initiative seeks to facilitate.

At the Justice Department we're also working with several organizations to create innovative approaches to old challenges. O ne of my responsibilities as Acting Associate Attorney General includes overseeing the Justice Department's grant making programs for state, local and tribal law enforcement and communities throughout the country. That includes the Office on Violence Against Women, the Office of Justice Programs and the Office of Community Oriented Policing, all of which administer critical funding to victim service providers, community partners in violence prevention, and law enforcement programs across the United States.

And one of the key initiatives we launched last year was a partnership with this organization called the Engaging Men in Preventing Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence program.

This is truly a unique program which seeks to underscore the critical roles men play in preventing domestic and dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. It employs a variety of strategies all aimed at developing male allies who are willing to engage in a number of different ways, from leaders who publicly speak out against such violence in their communities; to bystanders whose actions in times of crisis can make all the difference; to men who are willing to use their everyday influence with other men and boys to help turn the tide on violence against women and girls.

I know some of our OVW Engaging Men grantees are here. I’d like to ask them to stand and be acknowledged.

So let me close by saying "thank you": Thank you for the dedication you've demonstrated to reducing domestic violence and sexual assault; thank you for being an inspiration to others looking for ways to stand up and make a difference.

Over forty years ago, Robert Kennedy spoke of the difference one person could make; that by their individual actions they send out tiny ripples of hope, ripples that are transformed through collective action into waves of change.

That's exactly what you are doing. Your direct influence may only be on a few. But by talking, by sharing, by leading by example, you are touching hearts. And by touching hearts, you are changing attitudes and reducing violence. And by changing attitudes, you are saving and changing lives.

Thank you for that effort and thank you for having me share in this summit with you today.

Updated September 17, 2014