Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York
Thank you, Valerie, for your kind words – and for the outstanding work that you, Lynn, and so many of your colleagues here at the White House are doing on behalf of women and girls – all across the country – who need, deserve, and are depending on our help.
It is an honor to join with you, and with this group of policy experts, frontline practitioners, service providers, and dedicated – and courageous – advocates like Dr. Anne Marie Hunter and Sharon Love – as we call for the legislative action, and the continued bipartisan Congressional leadership, that is necessary to better protect women and girls from violence, abuse, and exploitation. I want to thank each of our speakers and panelists for lending your voices to this work – and for sharing your concerns, as well as your remarkable stories, with us.
I’d also like to recognize the law enforcement officials; community leaders; school association representatives; local, state, and tribal advocates; and Congressional staffers who are here with us this morning. Through your partnership in implementing and enforcing the landmark Violence Against Women Act over the past two decades – and your leadership in working to refine, and fighting to reauthorize, this critical law – you have helped to improve – and even save – countless lives.
Recent statistics show that between 1993 – the year before then-Senator Joe Biden authored this transformative legislation – and 2010, the number of women killed by an intimate partner declined by 30 percent. And annual rates of domestic violence against women plummeted by two thirds.
These statistics are extraordinary. They speak to the effectiveness of this important law – and to the immense power of the critical partners gathered here – in strengthening the criminal justice response to violence against women; in improving access to essential services for victims of these crimes; and in directly combating a problem so widespread that one study suggests it affects roughly one in four women – and one in thirteen men – at some point during their lifetimes.
As a former judge, I’ve seen the consequences that violence against women can have on neighborhoods and families – and, especially and most tragically, on young people. As a former United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, I helped formulate an aggressive response – by establishing a domestic violence task force within my office and enlisting the help of law enforcement officers and community leaders to address these crimes throughout our nation’s capital.
Today, as Attorney General – and as the father of two teenage girls – this work remains both a personal and professional priority. And for our nation’s Department of Justice, vigorously enforcing the provisions of the Violence Against Women Act is part of our solemn commitment to the citizens we are privileged to serve.
In many ways, fulfilling this commitment has never been more urgent. Estimates show that more than 2 million adults – and more than 15 million children – are exposed to domestic violence every single year. In addition to its devastating human toll – in purely economic terms – domestic violence costs our nation $8 billion annually in lost productivity and health care costs. In fact, it is responsible for the loss of 8 million paid days of work each year – or the equivalent of 32,000 full-time jobs.
But we can all be encouraged that, over the past three years, the Obama Administration has taken bold, innovative, and collaborative steps to more effectively prevent and prosecute violence against women and girls, and to help victims seek justice – and rebuild their lives. For example, in January of this year, we took important – and long-overdue – action when the Department amended the Uniform Crime Report’s definition of rape. The revised definition – which is used by the FBI to collect information from local law enforcement agencies about reported rapes – now includes non-vaginal forms of penetration, incorporates male victims, and – by providing us with more complete data – will enable us to more effectively combat and prevent these devastating crimes.
In addition to calling for this revision, the Justice Department has also focused on – and worked to raise awareness about – the alarming rates of domestic violence in tribal communities, where violent crime rates are now two, four, and – in some cases – ten times the national average.
The status quo is – quite simply – unacceptable. That's why the Justice Department has proposed legislation – which is included in the VAWA Reauthorization Bill – that would close significant legal gaps and give Indian Country law enforcement officials, investigators, and prosecutors the tools they need to crack down on violence against women and girls.
This would build on the outstanding efforts being led by the Department’s Office on Violence Against Women, which has been on the front lines of the Administration’s commitment to protecting the rights and safety of women and girls nationwide. Since 2009, OVW has awarded a record number of grants – totaling more than $1.5 billion – to states, territories, local and tribal governments, and nonprofit organizations in order to launch, sustain, and strengthen activities related to combating violence against women.
These investments have supported a wide variety of critical efforts – from initiatives aimed at preventing teen dating violence and sexual assaults, to improving the reporting of these crimes, reducing the backlog of rape kits, and building the capacity of Tribal Courts to combat domestic violence. And several OVW programs support initiatives and organizations that – by providing women with job training, financial literacy training, and housing services – have already had a clear economic impact.
But, as everyone here knows, we have more to do. As we look toward the future – and as Congress moves to consider reauthorizing this critical law – it’s important to remember that none of the progress we’ve gathered to discuss – and to advance – has been inevitable. It has resulted from the work of committed advocates like Vice President Biden, whose vision first drove Congress to pass, and President Clinton to sign, this historic law. It’s been extended by policymakers like Senators Reid, Leahy, and Crapo – who are fighting tirelessly to secure its timely reauthorization. And it is being realized by Justice Department leaders, Administration officials, law enforcement officers, community activists, victim advocates, and brave survivors like those gathered here today.
As you continue this work, I want you to know that this Administration – and, in particular, today’s Justice Department – will do all we can to support you. We are grateful for your partnership and very hard work – and we are proud to stand at your side.