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Acting Director Katharine Sullivan of the Justice Department's Office on Violence Against Women Delivers Remarks at the National Discussion on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment at America's Colleges, Universities, and Service Academies


Annapolis, MD
United States

Good afternoon everyone. Thank you so much for taking the time to raise awareness and learn more about how we can end sexual violence across our academies and university campuses. I want to thank the Department of Defense, the Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark T. Esper, Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spenser and Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson for putting this incredible event together and inviting the Office on Violence Against Women.

I believe in setting a high bar in life for every goal. Ending sexual assault and harassment is that high bar. An effective way to solve problems is through collaboration. That may sound easier than it actually is. Collaboration demands diplomacy, open mindedness, and a willingness to work with people who may have different perspectives. It is an honor and a privilege to have the opportunity to work under the leadership of President Trump, Attorney General Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein. Each of these individuals demonstrate, by their own actions, the power of collaboration and results-oriented action.

In order to truly lead through collaboration, we must have the ability to speak freely and openly about best practices that lead to most effective results. What better place to ensure this than on our college campuses and universities? To effect change for generations to come, we need to encourage institutions to foster environments that promote open, intellectually engaging, and diverse debate through compliance with the First Amendment. Our universities and campuses need to be a place where our students can ask questions and share ideas from all perspectives to stimulate ingenuity, including in the areas of sexual assault and sexual harassment. 

At the heart of OVW’s work is something we call a “coordinated community response,” meaning that professionals inside and outside the justice system work together to have a greater collective impact than any one person could have on their own. When all the places a victim might stop on his or her journey in the aftermath of violence—a law enforcement agency, a prosecutor’s office, a rape crisis center—take a collaborative approach to combatting sexual assault, their communities are better equipped to prevent these crimes, help victims, and hold offenders accountable.

I found this type of collaboration and open dialogue to be essential in my own life as well. In 11 years as a trial court judge I presided over 45,000 cases. Early on, I discovered there were people who could benefit from specialized, coordinated responses, addicts who were struggling to get clean and needed support combined with accountability. I created and presided over two problem-solving courts and I saw the magic in the team approach. It is very powerful to bring together committed, caring representatives from law enforcement, the District Attorney’s office, defense attorneys and victim service providers to share ideas and develop solutions unique to each community. That is how we will truly effect change.

We know that many campuses are making great strides to develop prevention efforts to address the myths around victimization, promote bystanders to intervene when they see something concerning, and bring general awareness to these crimes. In addition, campuses have developed robust policies and built collaborations and open dialogue with community sexual assault service organizations and local criminal justice agencies to enhance their overall response should a victim disclose these crimes.

I would like to highlight the huge strides our campus grantees have made to turn ideas into action, through collaboration, to end sexual violence on campuses across America. Between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2017, our Campus Program grantees served an average of 893 victims during each six-month reporting period. They reached 248,767 incoming students through prevention education programming—36 percent of all incoming students—over the two-year period. They did a lot of outreach as well, convening a total of 1,395 training events, reaching 36,054 campus professionals, including faculty and campus law enforcement. This work paid dividends in helping victims report crimes and be supported through the justice system; the schools reported that 537 criminal offenses resulted in criminal charges being filed in local jurisdictions.

OVW supports colleges and universities in this work through our Grants to Reduce Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, and Stalking on Campus Program. In the last three years, OVW has awarded 125 of these grants totaling more than 40 million dollars. Grantees include public, private, and faith-based colleges, universities, and community colleges in 49 states, three territories, and DC. Campuses that have gone through the program provide the model for other campuses working to address the same crimes. Campus Program grantees engage in innovative and evidence-based strategies, such as partnering with campus athletic programs, fraternities, working closely with faith-based campus clubs, and developing memoranda of understanding with local (off-campus) law enforcement.

More specifically, the University of California, Irvine has partnered with the City of Irvine Police Department and Community Service Programs Inc., to expand their coordinated community response team. Every year they will train all university police, campus conduct officers and members of the disciplinary hearing board on topics such as state and federal laws, dynamics of sexual violence, and technology-facilitated stalking.

St. John’s University and other universities also lead the way by partnering with local law enforcement and sexual assault service providers. These partnerships are the most effective way to truly hold offenders accountable and make sure victims get all the help they need. OVW funds similar collaborative efforts across all our programs, which enables them to tackle complex problems like sex trafficking and reducing domestic violence homicides. One OVW-grantee using a coordinated community response was Michigan’s Sexual Assault Unit, based in the Michigan Attorney General’s Office. They successfully prosecuted Larry Nassar, the former doctor for USA Gymnastics who sexually assaulted over 150 young women and girls. The OVW grant also assisted in providing access to services for Nassar’s victims.  

To conclude, before we can truly see change, we must first dedicate ourselves to pursuing diverse discussions and meaningful collaboration.. Thank you all for coming together to participate in this national discussion and thank you for listening.

Updated April 4, 2019