Thank you, Laurie [Robinson], for those very kind words, and for the commitment – and expertise – that you bring to the work of serving and supporting crime victims across the country.
Let me also join you in thanking Joye [Frost] and her team in the Office for Victims of Crime for organizing this week’s events and for bringing us together to reflect and to rededicate ourselves to helping all those whose lives have been shattered by crime find the support that they need – and the justice that they deserve.
It is a privilege, once again, to be part of this annual ceremony. And it’s a pleasure to join with you – and with so many of the Justice Department’s senior leaders – in recognizing the recipients of this year’s National Crime Victims’ Service Awards.
Each of these awardees – and the other government leaders, legal advocates, public servants, and concerned citizens here today – are part of a powerful, national movement – one that inspired the passage of the historic 1994 crime bill and the Violence Against Women Act, as well as the creation of the Crime Victims Fund. Today, this movement is uniting a broad array of partners to seek out new ways to protect our communities, and to more effectively assist and empower crime victims.
This work is not easy. In fact, as Laurie just said, it has never been more difficult. And, yet, the accomplishments that we’ve seen this past year – and celebrate today – are nothing less than historic.
This year’s award recipients have provided shelter to battered women; enabled victims of human trafficking to step out from the shadows; and helped survivors of sexual violence to rebuild their lives. You have protected seniors from abuse and children from exploitation. You have stood up for people whose lives – and financial security – have been devastated by fraud and identity theft. You have pushed military and law enforcement agencies to take bold steps forward in protecting victims’ rights. You have educated our medical and legal communities about the common challenges that survivors face. And you have inspired victims to collaborate with law enforcement to hold their offenders accountable. Some of you have even helped to reshape the law itself – and, in doing so, improved our ability to seek justice for crime victims and their families.
And all of you – through your various acts of service – have reminded us of one important truth, something that Judy Shepard – the courageous mother of Matthew Shepard – mentioned at last night’s Candlelight Vigil. Despite all we’ve achieved, all we’ve learned, and all we’ve overcome in recent decades – our continued vigilance against crime remains essential.
On behalf of my colleagues, I want you all to know that – when it comes to protecting the American people – today’s Justice Department is – and will remain – vigilant. This is a top priority – for me, for President Obama, and for our partners at every level of government and law enforcement.
With our continued vigilance, we will protect potential victims. We will support survivors. And we will honor those we’ve lost.
No one understands this work better – or has advocated more effectively for this approach– than my dear friend – and one of this year’s award recipients – FBI Director Robert Mueller.
For nearly a decade now, his leadership of the FBI has been instrumental in protecting the rights of crime victims. From his second week on the job – when he reached out to 9/11 victims and their families in the immediate aftermath of the attacks – to his quiet, critical work to support those affected, and devastated, by this year’s tragic shootings in Tucson, Arizona – Director Mueller has made extraordinary contributions – and many personal sacrifices – to protect the safety of the American people and to bring justice to all whose lives have been touched by crime.
He has also been a key leader in the Justice Department’s latest efforts to meet our responsibilities to crime victims nationwide. In addition to the Vision 21 initiative that Laurie mentioned, in recent months, the Department’s Victims of Crime Working Group has been evaluating, updating, and revising Department guidelines for how we treat crime victims and witnesses. These revisions will help to ensure that our procedures are in line with the most recent advances in technology, and reflect the realities of criminal investigations and prosecutions. They also will reinforce current efforts to safeguard the rights of victims, even beyond statutory mandates. And, today, I am proud to announce that our revision and review process has reached its conclusion, and that I have approved the new guidelines – and the Department will be putting them into action – very shortly.
In addition to this work, I have instructed all United States Attorneys’ Offices to meet regularly with local law enforcement to develop comprehensive strategies for reducing violent crime – and, in particular, violence against women. To target these efforts where they’re needed most, we recently added 33 new Assistant U.S. Attorney positions in 21 judicial districts that cover Indian Country. And – to improve collaboration between federal and tribal prosecutors and law enforcement officers – we have launched three Indian Country Community Prosecution Teams.
But that’s not all. Through the Crime Victims Fund – and through a number of grant programs – we are providing investments to successful crime prevention and victims’ services initiatives from coast to coast. In Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and the Navajo Nation, we’re supporting free legal aid programs for hundreds of low-income individuals and families. In New York City, we’re working to expand services to domestic violence survivors and their children. In Alabama, we’re supporting organizations that assist seniors who’ve been victimized financially. In South Carolina, we’re working with local sheriffs, police departments, and health-care professionals to help victims of sexual assault – many of whom are under the age of eighteen. And in Michigan and Texas, we’ve just awarded new grants to examine and address the persistent – and unacceptable – problem of untested sexual assault kits.
The scope of these efforts is impressive. And thanks to the people in this room, our work is making a meaningful, measurable difference. But this is only the beginning.
I pledge that the Justice Department will continue to work with our partners across the victims’ services community to more effectively serve those who need – and who are relying on – our help.
We can all be encouraged by the administration’s clear support of this goal. As many of you know, the President’s fiscal year 2012 budget request does not cut any money from victims’ assistance initiatives. In fact, it calls for millions in additional funding.
I look forward to putting these resources to work. And, as I look around this room, I can’t help but feel optimistic about where we will go from here – and all that we will accomplish – together.
I am privileged, and grateful, to count you all as partners. And I am proud to join with you in recognizing, and commending, each of this year’s outstanding awardees. These awardees have made individual lives better and our nation greater.
Congratulations, and thank you all.