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Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta Delivers Virtual Remarks at 2022 Conference on Crimes Against Women


Washington, DC
United States

I’m sorry I could not be with you in person but I want to thank Jan Langbein for making it possible for me to still speak with you today, and for developing – what I am sure – is an impressive, thought-provoking conference featuring the nation’s leading experts in responding to gender-based violence.

This is a challenging time. It seems like every other day there is a news report of a horrifying act of gun violence. In the short span of one week, we’ve witnessed this terror inflicted on the Black community in Buffalo, and right here in Dallas, where Asian-owned businesses were targeted. Nobody should have to fear losing their lives for simply going to a hair salon, a house of worship or the supermarket, because of the color of their skin or the community to which they belong.

In the midst of all this pain, it is uplifting that so many of you — thousands of you — are in Dallas to work together, share best practices, and solve problems. Your collective work on issues of gender-based violence is inspiring. 

The Justice Department is proud to partner with you. We know, as you all do, that sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking, and trafficking are far too common. We know those crimes impact entire communities and perpetuate inequity throughout society. And we are committed to working with and supporting state, local and Tribal law enforcement and victim advocacy organizations to ensure an effective, unbiased response to these crimes.

All of you reflect the multidisciplinary nature of an effective response to gender-based violence: one in which justice and healthcare professionals, victim advocates, culturally specific service providers, forensic scientists, educators and many others help survivors navigate the aftermath of trauma and work toward real accountability and healing. No one piece of the response is enough on its own: it takes a community-wide commitment to bring about real change.

With that in mind, I want to acknowledge the remarkable work happening right now, there in Dallas, to make homes and streets and neighborhoods safer through partnerships among city agencies and community organizations. We all know law enforcement officers are on the front lines of responding to violent crime, and often put themselves in danger to protect others. But Chief of Police Eddie Garcia’s violent crime reduction plan recognizes that making your city safer requires not only good police work, but also investments and commitments that go far beyond policing to mitigate root causes and interrupt violence before it becomes lethal.

I know from my own work it’s not easy to build partnerships across agencies and with community leaders – some of whom might have good reason to be skeptical about where those partnerships will lead. But you are doing it right there in Dallas, and I commend you for that — for listening to each other, even when you disagree, and for putting aside differences and navigating bureaucracies in pursuit of common goals.  

The guidance I am announcing today is the product of a similar process — of listening to stakeholders at all levels of government, law enforcement organizations, victims and others, and pursuing a common goal, which happens to be the title of the guidance: Improving Law Enforcement Response to Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence by Identifying and Preventing Gender Bias.

At the Department of Justice, we know that investigating cases involving sexual assault and domestic violence is challenging. As you know well, it demands thorough investigations and a careful effort to avoid unintentionally worsening the victimization for survivors of these crimes. And yet we also understand that training, resources, and supervision can fall far short of what officers need to respond effectively. And where they fall short, biases and stereotypes more easily creep in and affect how victims are treated and cases are handled.

Bias — both explicit and implicit — about people who are victimized by or who commit these crimes, and about the nature of gender-based violence — can undermine law enforcement’s ability to respond to these crimes and in turn, their ability to protect and serve their communities.

This guidance offers a set of eight basic principles that — when integrated into a law enforcement agency’s policies, trainings, and practices — help enhance public trust and confidence and ensure that bias does not weaken efforts to keep victims safe and hold offenders accountable:

  1. Recognize and address biases, assumptions and stereotypes about victims;
  2. Treat all victims with respect;
  3. Ensure that policies, training, supervision and resource allocation support thorough and effective investigations;
  4. Appropriately classify reports of sexual assault or domestic violence;
  5. Refer victims to appropriate services;
  6. Properly identify the predominant aggressor in domestic violence incidents;
  7. Implement policies to prevent officer-perpetrated sexual assault and domestic violence and hold officers who commit these offenses accountable; and
  8. Maintain, review and act upon data regarding sexual assault and domestic violence.

The guidance illustrates each principle with real-world examples and offers practical tips both for individual officers at all ranks to respond more effectively to survivors, and for agencies that are revising their policies and developing training materials. 

As some of you may know, today’s guidance provides updates to similar guidance the department released in 2015. And as I mentioned, our update process was extensive. We engaged with law enforcement officers and victim advocates, among others, and incorporated your feedback into both the substantive principles and the practical tools we included in the guidance. You asked for concrete examples and you will find them — to illustrate both what to do and what not to do. Our aim is to make this more than a policy document — we want you to turn to this guidance when a difficult situation arises or when designing scenarios to include in training modules. We want it to work for you.

We are fortunate to have in the audience today representatives from law enforcement agencies and advocacy organizations who have worked diligently to implement the principles in this guidance over the past several years, with the 2015 guidance as their model. For example:

  • The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), through grants from DOJ’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) and Office for Victims of Crime, oversaw an initiative to implement the 2015 guidance at six demonstration sites, including the Clark County, Ohio, Sheriff’s Office which is represented with you in Dallas today. Through its work with the IACP, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office strengthened its domestic violence policy and added a Victim Services Team comprising a deputy, a sergeant, and a victim advocate. And, based on lessons learned through working with all six sites, the IACP developed technical assistance materials for other agencies to use as models in updating their policies, procedures and training.
  • End Violence Against Women International, through a grant from OVW, developed webinars and other training materials that explore both explicit and implicit gender bias and highlight promising practices in responding to gender-based violence.
  • Over a two-year period, OVW made implementation of the 2015 guidance a priority under a particular grant program, after which grant recipients, for example, developed a manual on guidelines and best practices for investigating sexual assault in Philadelphia, and integrated principles from the guidance into polices for responding to domestic violence in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

I am excited to see and hear about how all of you will use this updated 2022 guidance in your own communities. We at the Justice Department will be working with law enforcement agencies and their community partners to build on these successes and ensure widespread implementation of the principles.

This guidance provides best practices that — when implemented into all levels of policy, training, and supervision — help law enforcement provide services free from discrimination on the basis of gender, and therefore handle these cases more effectively.

When survivors trust law enforcement, they are more likely to report crimes, serve as witnesses, and assist investigators, making our communities safer. And with your continued leadership and support – and help with sharing these principles widely across your networks – I know that together we can achieve this goal.

Thank you – and, most importantly, thank you all for your dedication to ending gender-based violence.

Updated May 23, 2022