Justice News

Acting Director of the Office on Violence Against Women Bea Hanson Speaks at the National Lieutenant Governors Association Annual Meeting
Chicago, IL
United States
Friday, July 20, 2012

Thank you for your introduction and thank you for your tireless leadership, Lieutenant Governor Simon. I have been fascinated to learn about the domestic violence legal clinic you started at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale’s School of Law and your pilot virtual legal clinic for rural victims of domestic violence.  You are a tremendous advocate for women.  

I also want to thank Julia Hurst, Executive Director of the National Lieutenant Governors Association (NLGA) for her kind invitation. I am grateful to be here today to talk about the critical role that states play in outreach, prevention and response to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking – the four crimes the Office on Violence Against Women is focused on. I would like to extend a warm welcome on behalf of my office and Attorney General Holder at the Department of Justice to lieutenant governors from across the country. I appreciate your interest and focus on these issues.

We have seen a trend of increasing dependability and engagement related to these crimes from lieutenant governors in recent years and I am confident this trend will continue.  Lieutenant governors have an opportunity to be involved in communities throughout the state in very substantive ways. Your role in the executive and legislative branches is unique, and you can use that position to engage with your states and encourage innovative, non-traditional partnerships across government and between local units of government and non-governmental organizations. These partnerships can create dynamic solutions to challenges we see across the country every day.

One way to increase the response and prevention capacity of states to address violence against women, and mitigate the impact of children’s exposure to violence, is to encourage states and local units of government to apply for funding through OVW’s federal grant programs. I would like to highlight three programs and mention several others that I hope you have on your radar.

First, the STOP Violence Against Women Formula Grant Program is provided to states and territories to support communities in their efforts to develop and strengthen victim services and law enforcement and prosecution strategies to combat violent crimes against women. By statute, OVW awards a base amount of $ 600,000to each state and territory. Remaining funds are distributed among the states and territories according to population. There is a 25% match requirement on grant funds; and each state and territory must allocate 25 percent of the funds for law enforcement, 25 percent for prosecution, 5 percent for courts and 30 percent for victim services.

The second grant program I want to highlight is the Sexual Assault Service Program (SASP). Sexual violence impacts all people, regardless of age, ethnicity, race or economic status. The SASP formula grant program is the first federal funding stream solely dedicated to direct intervention and related assistance for victims of sexual assault. The purpose of SASP is to provide intervention, advocacy, support services and related assistance for adult and child victims of sexual assault, family and household members of victims and those collaterally affected by the sexual assault. This important program aims to help survivors heal from sexual assault trauma through direct intervention and related assistance from social service organizations such as rape crisis centers. The SASP encompasses five different funding streams for states and territories, tribes, state and tribal sexual assault coalitions, and culturally specific organizations. It is administered as one formula program and two independent discretionary programs (Tribal SASP and SASP Cultural).

Third, every state has a sexual assault and domestic violence coalition that provides direct support to community based domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers and other organizations that address issues of violence against women through funding, training and technical assistance, public awareness and public policy advocacy. These coalitions are an excellent resource to you in developing state action plans and coordinating federal, state and local victim service activities. The role of coalitions is to have their finger on the pulse of violence against women issues in their/your state.

In addition to these three formula programs, OVW has several other discretionary grant programs that allow eligible states to apply for funding to enhance the capacity of local law enforcement units and civil and criminal courts, and to develop improved response systems for underserved and vulnerable populations including victims later in life, victims with disabilities, victims living in rural localities and victims needing transitional housing assistance.

Since its inception, OVW has awarded over $4.7 billion in grants and cooperative agreements, and will award approximately $400 million this year. Even in these tough economic times the Obama Administration is committed to and has prioritized the work of OVW and has been able to minimize reductions in funding streams for grant programs.

As I mentioned before, OVW is charged with addressing domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking in states and communities nationwide. We support thousands of victim service organizations, police departments, state and local governments, tribes and courts to end these crimes through a community-based approach.

OVW promotes and supports a coordinated response to violence against women that involves the courts, law enforcement, victim service providers, health care providers, faith leaders and other social service organizations. Currently, OVW administers three formula-based and 18 discretionary grant programs, established when VAWA was first passed by Congress in 1994 and in subsequent legislation. A new discretionary program you will hear us talking about soon is our consolidated youth program which will be announced later this summer.

Lieutenant Governor Simon, I thought I would share a few stories from your state of Illinois that highlight the impact OVW grant programs have on the people in your state. Rest assured these stories are not unique to Illinois, and I imagine if I spoke with each lieutenant governor in this room today we would hear similar successes.

Take, for example, the Illinois Department of Human Services who received a grant from OVW’s Disability Program. They reported that survivors with disabilities in grant-funded communities, who historically could not access critical services needed to ensure their safety, are now finding their disability providers to be more accessible and more responsive to violence against women issues. To use their words: “The supports available through the grant have been extremely valuable… We believe that our community level efforts will mirror the same benefits. The time invested in the planning process as well as available supports through the grant will be the key to promoting systems change.”

The Illinois Family Violence Coordinating Councils is an example of a well coordinated community response. In a recent evaluation of the Illinois Family Violence Coordinating Councils, one significant outcome was the identification of the Councils as a successful mechanism in the state for coordinating interagency intervention to address domestic violence. The evaluation found that these councils facilitated stronger relationships and enhanced knowledge among stakeholders, and found a positive relationship between the councils’ formation and development and the rate of emergency protection orders that became plenary orders of protection.

In Illinois, OVW’s Abuse in Later Life Program grantees provide training to law enforcement officers, prosecutors and judges through local, state and national training events. I would like to share a quote from Against DV and SA Services, a grantee who felt the national training events promoted collaboration and systems-level change in their community: “We have sent four prosecutors and three judges to national institutes on elder abuse. All of the judges returned from the trainings wanting to know more about local adult protective service agencies and told me they had not thought we had much elder abuse and were surprised to see cases on their docket when they returned. The trainings are opening eyes. Simply put, elder abuse is now seen as a local concern. In the beginning, law enforcement officers (and even some of our trainers) did not think that… elder abuse happened here. Some did not think that the training module on financial exploitation was even really needed. This has changed… This has resulted in an increase in prosecutions for financial exploitation… The funding has also allowed for greater collaboration in both current cases and systems work. Our adult protective services trainers report an increase of calls to their agency from law enforcement officers. Our local coroner has reached out to our team to start an elder fatality review team to address abuse in the home and in unlicensed board and care homes.”

Along the same line, the Illinois State's Attorney Appellate Prosecutor's Office used Arrest Program funding to improve the criminal justice system’s response to violent crimes against women. The development of the Violence Against Women Prosecution Unit met a primary goal of the Arrest grant:  increasing the number of domestic violence and sexual assault cases that are charged and successfully prosecuted. At the request of a state’s attorney, the special unit will assume responsibility for a domestic violence or sexual assault case and handle all aspects of these challenging cases. Additionally, the special unit provided workshops and skills-building training for prosecutors and allied professionals, a resource not available to prosecutors in Illinois before the Arrest grant was implemented.


A final example of the work being done to address violence against women and young adults who reside in Illinois while attending institutions of higher education is the University of Illinois, an OVW Campus Grant Program recipient. Acts of sexual violence are vastly under-reported, yet data shows that our nation’s students suffer from sexual violence early and the likelihood that they will be assaulted by the time they graduate from college is significant. By the time girls graduate from high school, more than one in ten will have been physically forced to have sexual intercourse in or out of school. By the time young women finish college, nearly 20% of them will be victims of attempted or actual sexual assault, as will about 6% of undergraduate men. Victims of sexual assault are more likely to have a marked decline in academic performance and to suffer from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, to abuse alcohol and drugs and to contemplate suicide.


Campus Program grantees provide direct services to students who are victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking on college campuses. A coordinated network of support services, often in partnership with the community, provides medical, legal, advocacy and counseling services to victims on college campuses. In a report to OVW the University of Illinois stated, “The campus grant has allowed us the human capital and financial resources to establish an infrastructure that effectively and sensitively responds to victims of interpersonal violence. Maintaining and training such a large team is very difficult and requires constant attention… especially… having sufficient advocacy coverage and maintaining prevention and education efforts… A final testament to the effectiveness of this grant lies in the fact that many of the students who seek our services are able to get their lives back together, heal, and graduate from college despite all of the barriers that experiencing interpersonal violence has placed in their lives. Past evaluation research on the effectiveness of our services has shown that students experience a sense of empowerment as a result of advocacy.”

OVW has also been working in partnership with the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement to develop a Family Justice Center in New Orleans as part of a special post-Katrina initiative. The New Orleans Family Justice Center opened its doors 5 years ago, on the 2nd Anniversary of Katrina. This month, the Family Justice Center has moved to a new location within the City, and we are excited to be participating in the official grand opening event on August 28, 2012. The New Orleans Family Justice Center centralizes the handling of domestic violence and sexual assault cases by co-locating police, prosecutors, victim services and child advocates to maximize service delivery and availability for underserved populations. This project is a huge victory for victims and survivors of domestic and sexual violence and for the City of New Orleans.

As the recipient of an OVW Recovery Act Transitional Housing award, the Michigan Department of Human Services, through the Michigan Domestic Violence Prevention and Treatment Board, exemplifies how a state agency can leverage the resources of federal funding to expand the availability of transitional housing and supportive services for victims of domestic violence while promoting economic recovery in a state experiencing significant economic difficulty. Through this award, the State of Michigan has supported the enhancement of the existing services and provided additional technical assistance and support for 6 domestic violence transitional housing programs serving 10 counties across the state. These programs represent geographically and culturally diverse areas of Michigan, and provide support for several underserved populations within the state, including African American, Latina, and rural victims of domestic violence.

Each of these examples highlight the positive outcomes OVW grant programs can have in a state. Another way states can work to respond to violence against women, and specifically sexual assault, is through full implementation of the new Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) definition of rape. The UCR is the national “report card” on serious crime. Police departments submit their data on reported crimes and arrests to the FBI’s Summary Reporting System ( SRS), and what gets reported through the UCR is how we collectively view crime in this country.

“Forcible rape” has historically been defined by the UCR SRS as “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.”  This definition, unchanged since 1927, was outdated and narrow, including only forcible male penile penetration of a female vagina. The new definition reads: “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”  In a victory for our nation’s law enforcement, survivors of rape, and their advocates, FBI Director Robert Mueller approved this new UCR definition of rape within the FBI’s Summary Reporting System (SRS) in late December, 2011. The change sent an important message to victims – it signified that what happens to them matters. It also made it clear that perpetrators will be held accountable.

For the first time ever, the new definition includes any gender of victim and perpetrator, not just women being raped by men.  It also recognizes that rape with an object can be as traumatic as penile/vaginal rape. This definition also includes instances in which the victim is incapable of giving consent because of temporary or permanent mental or physical incapacity. Furthermore, because many rapes are facilitated by drugs or alcohol, the new definition recognizes that a victim can be incapacitated and thus unable to consent because of ingestion of drugs or alcohol. Similarly, a victim may be legally incapable of consent because of age. The ability of the victim to give consent must be determined in accordance with state statute.  Physical resistance is not required on the part of the victim to demonstrate lack of consent. 

Even though most states have more expansive definitions of rape in their criminal codes, they had to report the smaller number of crimes falling under the more narrow UCR SRS definition.  This meant that the statistics reported nationally, reflecting the totality of rape, were both inaccurate and undercounted.

Because the new definition is more inclusive, reported crimes of rape are likely to increase. This does not mean that rape has increased, but simply that it is more accurately reported. In addition, the UCR program will also collect data based on the historical definition of rape, enabling law enforcement to track consistent data and trends until the statistical differences between the old and new definitions are more fully understood. It is important to note that the new UCR SRS definition of rape does not change Federal or state criminal codes and does not impact charging alleged perpetrators or prosecution on the Federal, State or local level, it simply means that rape will be more accurately reported nationwide.

This definition also sends a powerful message, one best articulated by Vice President Biden, that “rape is rape is rape.” It is rape even if you are a man, even if you are raped with an object, and even if you were too drunk to consent.  This is an important part of our progress to support victims and help states and law enforcement organizations hold perpetrators accountable.  It will require training law enforcement officials, sexual assault nurse examiners, victim advocates and state legislatures about the new definition which, in turn, will spark a conversation about the way victims are served by the law enforcement and justice communities. I am looking forward to working with all of you to support your states and local communities as we make this momentous change.

I have also been asked to provide a little information about the Violence Against Women Act. Many of you are aware that as a direct result of VAWA, we have witnessed a paradigm shift in how the issue of violence against women is addressed in the United States, and there have been countless lives positively affected by VAWA.  VAWA has led to significant improvements in the criminal and civil justice systems, encouraging victims to file complaints, improving evidence collection and increasing access to protection orders. Victims now can reach out for help, call the police, find 24-hour emergency services and take steps to leave abusive relationships.  According to FBI Uniform Crime Report data, between 1993 and 2010, the number of individuals killed by an intimate partner declined 30% for women and 66% for men. We have witnessed gains in the areas of sexual assault with the percentage of victims of rape and sexual assault who said they reported the assault to the police increasing from 28.8% in 1993 to 50% in 2010.

By reducing crimes and the subsequent costs to the criminal justice and health care systems, VAWA has realized cost savings.  A 2002 study found that VAWA saved an estimated $12.6 billion in net averted social costs in its first six years alone.  A recent study showed that the state of Kentucky averted $85 million in costs by reducing violence and improving victims’ quality of life through protection orders.  Even small investments in VAWA have been shown to make a difference on the ground.

VAWA has provided women, men and children with a whole host of services including improved criminal justice response with the development of integrated domestic violence courts, improved police response with specialized DV units in police departments and access to legal assistance, shelters, counseling, health care and advocacy for victims. VAWA makes special provisions for victims who are too often forgotten: the elderly, the disabled, women in rural areas who can’t easily access help and others who are underserved because of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity.

VAWA’ s initial passage in 1994focused on law enforcement and basic services. When VAWA was reauthorized in 2000, it included improved protections for battered immigrants, elderly victims, victims with disabilities and victims of dating violence. It also improved the enforcement of protection orders. The 2005 reauthorization included coordinated community response, services for underserved and vulnerable populations and resources for victims of sexual assault and stalking. This landmark legislation expired in 2011 and is currently awaiting reauthorization in Congress. Senate bill 1925 passed in the Senate with strong bi-partisan support. This version addressed the intergenerational cycle of violence, focused on preventing domestic homicides, improved responses to sexual assault, strengthened legal services for victims and addressed the epidemic of violence against Native women. The version passed by the House ( H.R. 4970) did not include a number of the protections in the Senate version.

The Administration supports the Senate bill because it protects more victims. We proposed addressing the criminal jurisdiction gap in Indian country and are pleased that the Senate included this in their bill. Most of all, we are concerned because the timeframe to get this done is rapidly closing. If Congress does not act we lose critical improvements, including opportunities to reduce domestic violence homicide, improve the response to dating violence on campus and improve investigation and prosecution of rape.

OVW is poised to implement possible changes in grant-making and management based on these legislative changes. The fundamental goal of VAWA is to meet the needs of victims by employing tools and resources available through the criminal justice system, civil legal system and community-based advocacy and victim services. In order meet this mandate, we must identify the complete array of needs and develop tailored approaches to ensure the safety of all survivors.

It is critical we keep in mind that – although many lives have been positively impacted by VAWA – one out of every four women will experience domestic violence at sometime in her life and that on average, more than three women die as a result of domestic violence every day. Every 2 minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted, and 1 out of 5 women have been victims of rape or attempted rape in their lifetime. This is the sobering reality that needs to drive and motivate us to do more and be leaders and spokespeople in our states and neighborhoods. Each of you has influence and is a recognized national leader. I feel very fortunate that you are part of the fight to end violence against women.

In my tenure at OVW, I have also felt privileged to witness the leadership and strength of the Department of Justice and the Administration on this issue. The Attorney General has committed to making violence against women a priority and highlights its potentially devastating impact on children and youth at every opportunity.

I look forward to working with lieutenant governors to push the boundaries and find innovative ways to end violence against women and protect our nation’s children, our future, from violence. As professionals, spouses, parents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, friends and co-workers we can and must build strong and safe communities, and we at the Department of Justice stand ready to support you, as state leaders, in creating neighborhoods and communities that stop violence before it starts, that offer safety and respect for victims and hold offenders accountable. Thank you for being our partners.

Updated September 27, 2016