Thank you all for attending this incredible Conference on Crimes Against Women.
Many thanks are owed to Jan Langbein, Becky Park, and all the staff of Genesis Women’s Shelter and Support, thank you for your incredible efforts in hosting this annual conference. Your tireless work to strengthen the systemic responses to crimes against women is inspiring.
Thank you also to the Dallas Police Department for co-hosting this year’s conference, and to Dallas City Mayor Mike Rawlings and Dallas Police Chief Reneé Hall for their support of this important event and their welcoming remarks this morning.
It is an honor to be with you all here today. As you know, successfully combatting violence against women requires that we come together with a coordinated community response. Prosecutors, law enforcement, courts, nurses, advocates, service providers, and everyone here today – you play a crucial part in ending violence against women.
Improving the criminal justice response to domestic violence and sexual violence is the backbone of the Violence Against Women Act. Collaborative work is essential to improving the response to crimes against women. I want to highlight one innovative type of collaboration that I have seen recently.
I am pleased to share that US Attorneys’ offices throughout the country are creating collaborative projects through the Department of Justice’s Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) initiative. The goal of these projects is to reduce violent crime in our communities and the success of these programs are firmly built on their local partnerships. The U.S. Attorneys’ offices are working hand in hand with local law enforcement, the local District Attorney’s office, and some are even partnering with their local Family Justice Center.
An incredible example of this is happening right here in Dallas. The U.S. Attorney for Northern Texas, Erin Nealy Cox, is fighting domestic violence using federal firearms laws through their PSN initiative. Working in tandem with state and local law enforcement partners, U.S. Attorney Nealy Cox has pledged to prosecute domestic violence offenders discovered with guns. As U.S. Attorney Cox recently said in her announcement of this new initiative: “With so many domestic disputes escalating from bruises to bullets and bloodshed, we can and should play a part in ending this senseless violence. We’re hopeful that highlighting this focus will send a message to convicted abusers: Not only can the Justice Department prosecute you for firearm possession, but in the Northern District of Texas, we will.”
If you are not already working with your local Project Safe Neighborhood site and your U.S. Attorney, I urge you to reach out to them to explore ways you can partner to reduce violent crimes in your community.
I also want to highlight the work being done for Native women at this conference. We know that violence against Native American and Alaskan Native women is an urgent problem in the United States. While crimes against women affect every community, tragically, Native American women face higher rates of domestic violence, sexual assault, and domestic violence homicide than almost any other group. A 2016 National Institute for Justice study concluded that more than half of all Native women have experienced sexual violence and physical violence by an intimate partner, and 84 percent have experienced some form of violence in their lifetimes.
In response to these troubling crimes, President Trump has appropriated historic amounts of funds into tribal country to assist Native women. The Department of Justice has also doubled the amount of grant funding devoted to public-safety and victim services in Native American communities.
Furthermore, the Office of Violence Against Women (OVW) has funded several Tribal Special U.S. Attorneys (Tribal SAUSAs) to address one of the primary challenges to attaining justice for Native women: a lack of prosecutors to hold perpetrators accountable. These tribal prosecutors are able to bring cases in both tribal and federal court to ensure that cases do not fall through the cracks. Tribal SAUSAs will be on the frontline of Attorney General Barr’s strategy to reduce violent crime in all American communities.
In our pilot project, Tribal SAUSAs reported a wide range of successes, including bringing to court cases that otherwise would not have been prosecuted, increasing trust and bettering relationships between tribal law enforcement, victim services, victims, and the participating U.S. Attorney’s Office, and strengthening accountability for violence against women-related crimes in Indian country. Tribal SAUSAs have been able to advocate for their tribe’s views and needs, which helps the tribe have even more input into prosecutions.
I am often asked about my priorities for the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW). My first priority is to support the agenda of Attorney General Barr and President Trump. Their priorities, such as reducing violent crime and combatting human trafficking, perfectly coincide with the priorities of the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW). My other priorities for the office are to include substance abuse professionals in coordinated community responses to VAWA crimes and to increase efforts to combat the crime of stalking.
I am so encouraged to see a specific track at this conference dedicated to the crime of stalking. The seriousness of stalking cases, and the element of stalking in other violent crimes, is often overlooked. Behaviors that might seem harmless are frequently revealed to be part of a pattern of stalking. 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 critical that we recognize the often over-looked crime of stalking and bring the stalking case to court to prevent it from becoming a domestic violence, sexual assault, or homicide case.
Lastly, I want to bring your attention to the horrific crime of female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C). FGM/C is a horrific crime of violence against women and girls. This crime can cause extreme and long-term physical and psychological effects on its victims. A CDC study from 2012 estimates that at least 513,000 women and girls in the United States have suffered or are at risk of becoming victims of FGM/C.
At OVW, we are working hard to raise awareness about this violent crime and the danger it presents to girls in our local communities. We must work hard to prevent and stop this crime and to support the survivors. OVW funds nonprofit, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to do this work in a sensitive, culturally appropriate way as part of their work on domestic violence and sexual assault. I am glad to see a workshop at this conference on FGM/C and I encourage you all to become more informed about this horrific crime.
The work you all are doing on the frontlines in combatting crimes against women every day is making a difference. As I reflect on my 17 years working in the criminal justice system, I see how far our country has come in improving the criminal justice response to violence against women by the work of law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, victim advocates, and other dedicated professionals all represented here today.
Thank you for all you do. You are in our hearts and thoughts always.