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Acting Director Katharine Sullivan of the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women Delivers Remarks at National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges Annual Conference


Denver, CO
United States

Remarks as prepared for delivery

It’s wonderful to be back in Colorado and in a room full of judges! Even after 11 years and 45,000 cases, I still loved being a county judge and running two problem-solving courts in the mountains of Colorado. But I love my country even more, so I came to Washington, DC, to work for President Trump’s Administration. I am so privileged to serve this President and Attorney General Jeff Sessions in my role as Acting Director of the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW).

I hope many of you had the chance to attend yesterday’s session on Gang Sex Trafficking in the United States, presented by our own Michael Frank, the Associate Deputy Attorney General. He is terrific. Sex trafficking is just one of the many areas where we as judges can play a crucial role, not just in the lives of the individuals before us but in our whole communities.

Domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking are all incredibly dangerous crimes that I saw often in my courtroom. The seriousness of stalking cases in particular is often overlooked. Behaviors that might seem innocuous were frequently revealed to be part of a pattern of stalking, but I only knew that because I took the time to read all the text messages and absorb all the evidence. We all know how tedious yet important it is that we take the time to look for the signs of coercion and control.

It is training from the National Council on Juvenile and Family Judges (the Council) that teaches judges like me across the country to do that very thing, as well as how to approach complex family law cases, keep children and parents safe, understand trauma, and implement best practices.

In the 20-year partnership between OVW and the Council, more than 12,000 judges have been educated. In June, I travelled to Minnesota to attend a gathering of exceptional judges who OVW convenes as “mentor courts” for other courts and judges across the country. One judge told me that attending the Council’s “Enhancing Judicial Skills in Domestic Violence Cases” training changed his life.

Together, OVW and the Council have significantly improved outcomes for survivors in court. The Council provides transformative education to judges on the dynamics of domestic violence and how best to promote safety and accountability.

But training and technical assistance are not enough. Changing the landscape and really reducing domestic and sexual violence requires all of us right here in this room to be open enough to shift our perspectives.

I know how hard it is do that while under the pressure of serving on the bench. It is overwhelming to keep your docket moving, cope with the intense emotions from both plaintiffs and defendants, hold evidentiary hearings, write legally sound rulings, and manage jury trials – all the while maintaining a terrific demeanor. It takes not just time but energy, and sometimes as a judge you feel so isolated. 

So, I commend you for making time to attend this incredible conference. I encourage you to do even more. Go to trainings. Visit with OVW mentor courts. Connect with people who are doing creative, energizing new work. One inspiring example is Judge Berryl Anderson in Dekalb County, Georgia. I visited her restraining order court and it is one of several excellent models for you to consider.

Increasing collaborations with agencies and service providers in your community can also reveal exciting ideas. The future of our work is in coordinated community responses – better collaboration, closer working relationships, and partnering across every agency that touches the lives of victims. One great way to build new strategic relationships is by working with Project Safe Neighborhoods. This initiative is very important to Attorney General Sessions as we strive to reduce violent crime and make our communities safe for all.

The Justice Department is working on collaborative efforts with other federal agencies, too. Just yesterday, the Department announced the release of a public service announcement aimed at raising awareness and reaching victims of sexual harassment in housing. OVW is part of the efforts led by the Civil Rights Division, including partnering with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), on a an initiative to combat sexual harassment in housing. The Department and HUD are working together to distribute the PSA and encourage victims to come forward to report this harassment.

Getting out into the field and learning about innovative options can help change the prism through which you view your court. You can see the rainbow of opportunities for having a lasting impact in your communities instead of just the cases on your docket. Whether you are new to the bench or have served for many years, talk to people about problem solving courts, dedicated domestic violence dockets, and the many other models out there. Consider how emerging issues, like sex trafficking, female genital mutilation, and the opioid crisis, might be impacting the victims and perpetrators standing before you. And look for ways to address the overlapping issues facing victims, like the intersection of domestic violence and substance abuse.

As judges, you have incredible power – even if some days you feel like you don’t. I know you are doing phenomenal work every day to help survivors. And I know you will accomplish incredible things in the years to come.



Updated September 7, 2018