Good afternoon and thank you Sue [Carbon] for that introduction. As Sue mentioned, in my role as the Associate Attorney General, I oversee our grant-making programs for state, local and tribal law enforcement and communities across the country. This includes the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), which administers critical funding to victim service providers and programs across the country. I also have the pleasure of being the department’s point person in the implementation of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act), so I’m especially pleased to be with you today to hear first hand about how federal the Recovery Act has made a difference in your communities.
I know that I am speaking to a group that has felt the pinch of the recent economic crisis. Just as the American people are facing economic hardships, state and local governments are feeling the strain of balancing their budgets. In some cases, they are faced with the unacceptable, yet very real, prospect of reducing funding or closing shelters and transitional housing facilities. The Recovery Act recognized this by including $225 million to support five of OVW’s grant programs, including the Transitional Housing Assistance Program, which received $50 million.
We’ve all heard that the Recovery Act helped to stimulate the economy by directly saving and creating jobs across the country. But it has also helped the economy in the same way that you and your colleagues help the economy every day: by providing a safe place for victims to come home to. By giving their children an opportunity to sleep in a warm bed. We know that children cannot thrive when they are terrified in their own homes. We know that a victim cannot do her best at work and earn a living when she is not safe in her home. We know that safe communities are the building blocks of our economic recovery. Through efforts like the Transitional Housing Assistance Program, the Recovery Act has sought to meet the challenge of our struggling economy with solutions that will keep our country safe and keep us moving forward.
You have a lot to be proud of. OVW received 567 applications in response to the Transitional Housing Assistance Program, and 91 of you were selected for funding. This included two state agencies, two tribal governments, two units of local government, and 85 non-profit organizations. The applications that came in are indicative of both the tough times our states, cities and tribes are facing and the unyielding commitment of transitional housing providers and advocates. Thank you for the work that you do and your commitment to victims and their families across the country.
Sue explained that we are marking the 15 year anniversary of President Bill Clinton signing the Violence Against Women Act – or VAWA – into law with a public awareness campaign. Our goal is to do more than simply commemorate an anniversary. It is a time to recommit ourselves to ending domestic and sexual violence. Our government and this department have a responsibility to speak out and act on issues of violence against women.
So this year we have held events focused on diverse communities to raise public awareness, to make sure that survivors everywhere know that they have a place – and a voice – in this administration, and to build toward a future where domestic abuse and sexual assault are eradicated. We have created new alliances among rural, tribal, elder, youth and military communities to share lessons learned and new, innovative paths forward.
One of the things that has been so critical in this year’s campaign has been the discoveries that we have made. After 15 years, much has been done, but we must now address new challenges. When VAWA was first drafted, there was no such thing as texting or sexting. We were scared about our children being abducted by strangers, but were not obsessing about who they were talking to or meeting on the internet. Stalking was something that happened in person, not on Facebook or Gmail or on a cell phone. We have learned – as you see every day – far more about the devastating impact of domestic and sexual violence on children, and their need for safety, housing and services along with their parent. We have learned far more about the corrosive effect that the epidemic of domestic and sexual violence has on tribal communities across the country, which may have rates of violence two, four or even 10 times the national average. And we know that domestic and sexual violence plague relationships gay and straight, regardless of race, regardless of class and many times, regardless of gender.
Today, we shine a light on the work that you are doing, and have invited our colleagues from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to discover with us. We need to hear from you what is working and where there are gaps. As we look to the reauthorization of VAWA later this year, we need to know about lessons learned and how we in the federal government can help you serve victims and their families.
We have our work cut out for us. But we’re not in this alone. One of the messages that we have sought to carry throughout the 15th anniversary of VAWA is that domestic and sexual violence are not just issues for the victim, or his or her family. They are everyone’s problem. That’s why I speak about domestic and sexual violence in front of every audience, whether it’s a group of advocates, a bar association, a business group, or a group of students. It cannot be the work of the Department of Justice alone, or the criminal justice system, or state government or the advocacy and service provider communities. Leaders at all levels in the public and private sectors and each community must take an active role in responding to sexual assault and domestic violence.
Our goal is for all of these leaders to support you and the work that you are doing. As you leave here tomorrow feeling rejuvenated after this orientation, know that you leave with our strong support for your work. We at the department are committed to this cause and will work with state, local and tribal partners to ensure that all communities – particularly those that have been chronically neglected – are given the resources and support they need . We share your vision where men, women, boys, girls and communities can live in a world without the fear of domestic or sexual violence.
Thank you all.