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Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole Speaks at the 12th Annual International Family Justice Center Conference


New Orleans, LA
United States

Good morning. Thank you, Casey for that kind introduction. I’d like to also thank you, Gael, and each of you here for your tireless work to protect victims of family violence. 

It is a distinct honor to address all of you at the Twelfth Annual International Family Justice Center Conference. The leadership that Casey Gwinn and Gael Strack provide in the Family Justice Center movement is invaluable. The Department of Justice recognized your work during the past year, when Gael received the Department’s Innovation in Victim Services Award, and when the Attorney General selected Casey as a Finalist for the Anthony Sutin Civic Imagination Award, for his visionary thinking over the last 25 years.

I also want to acknowledge and thank the City of New Orleans, the Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans, and all of the staff, partners, and allies of the New Orleans Family Justice Center who are with us today. Your determined work to serve victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, no matter the odds, and your journey from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to the development of the New Orleans Family Justice Center is truly an inspiration for us all. 

The problems of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse continue to have a severe impact on our society, and we have much work left to do in this area. As each of you know, these devastating crimes impact not only the immediate victims, but their families, neighbors, friends, and indeed their entire communities.  It is a problem that affects people of every background, ethnicity, age, ability or sexual orientation. 

Despite significant progress, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 13 men will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. Nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the United States have been raped at some time in their lives. Each day, on average, three women die in America as a result of domestic violence. In fact, these numbers probably understate the problem. We all know that too many cases are not reported because victims are ashamed or afraid to tell the police, friends, or family about the abuse.

Children who are victimized or who witness violence in their families or communities suffer in unimaginable ways.  Their own development can be tragically arrested and they may find themselves later involved with the court system as delinquents, runaways, or even perpetrators of violence against others.  These children are at a higher risk for school failure, substance abuse, repeat victimization and perhaps most tragically, for becoming violent adults themselves.

This incidence of violence is simply unacceptable, and we must do everything possible to end it.

While the Department of Justice does a great deal in this area, it is committed to doing more to serve survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse and to prevent these terrible crimes from occurring in the first place. That is why, led by the excellent work of the Office on Violence Against Women, we are working to support a coordinated community response to address the causes and consequences of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and child abuse. Of course, the Department has an important role in prosecuting the perpetrators of some of the worst of these crimes, and bringing them to justice. But to truly address this problem, the Department must do much more than simply bringing cases to court when we have jurisdiction. We must treat domestic violence and sexual assault not just as a criminal justice issue, but also as a public health threat that requires sustained attention from entire communities.

This means adopting a broad approach, partnering with state, local, and tribal law enforcement, faith-based organizations, advocates, and survivors. Together, we must find practical, common-sense solutions that are grounded in survivors’ real world experiences. We must identify and foster the most effective and innovative ideas to address these problems. And we must give survivors hope and support, so that their lives are not defined solely by the violence of their darkest moments.

That’s why the work of family justice centers is so vitally important. You are doing all this and more.

The family justice centers are based on the simple notion that victims of domestic violence and their children, who are already suffering so much, should not have to go from place to place to get the help they need. By giving victims access to trained advocates, police officers, prosecutors, judges, medical professionals, and others in one location, family justice centers offer a practical solution to problems that can seem overwhelming to victims. By providing comprehensive services in one location, the centers enhance victims’ safety, and make it more likely that they can successfully navigate the criminal and civil justice processes. Many family justice centers are now seeing the benefits of co-location for survivors of sexual assault and child abuse, and are expanding their collaborative partnerships and their range of services to address these crimes.

We have seen what this actually means for communities, and we know it saves lives. Thanks to the patience and persistence of Casey and Gael in San Diego, since 2002 when the city began co-locating services, domestic violence homicides have plummeted.

The Department of Justice is proud to support these vital centers, and we are particularly proud of our work with the New Orleans Family Justice Center, founded on the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The New Orleans center has already dramatically improved services for victims of domestic violence in this city. It is a truly remarkable achievement.

After Katrina, like so much else, the criminal justice system and victim support services in New Orleans were devastated. The infrastructure previously available to address violence against women was severely damaged, and the city lost many of its victims’ services organizations entirely. But there was an amazing will in this community – across a wide range of stakeholders and elected offices – to create a brighter future in the wake of that tragic loss.

And you have succeeded. Under the leadership of Mary Claire Landry, and the strong support of the City and Mayor Landrieu, our own United States Attorney Jim Letten and the Office on Violence Against Women, Catholic Charities, the District Attorney’s Office, the New Orleans Police Department, and others, the New Orleans Family Justice Center has brought together police officers, prosecutors, advocates, social service providers, and civil legal professionals in an unprecedented collaboration to aid victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse. It has become a model for other family justice centers that are still in the planning or early stages. This extraordinary partnership is making more and more of a difference everyday in the lives of survivors across the country.

Let me talk for a moment about the pending reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. This law is an important reminder of the progress we have made as a nation, and the challenges we must overcome in the years ahead. Since enactment of this landmark legislation, we have witnessed a sea-change in the ways that communities respond to violence against women.  Perhaps most importantly, it brought the issues of domestic violence and sexual assault out of the shadows, reflecting the broad national consensus that we must work together to end domestic violence and sexual assault.

The law takes a comprehensive approach to violence against women by combining tough new penalties to prosecute offenders with programs to aid the victims of such violence, and it created the Department’s Office on Violence Against Women to support a sustained federal response to the problem. It has also brought a critical shift in how the issue of violence against women is addressed in the United States -- encouraging jurisdictions to bring together stakeholders from diverse backgrounds to share information and to use their distinct roles to improve and expand the community responses to violence against women.

VAWA also provides vital funding that allows family justice centers to bring the coordinated community response to new levels. All of these changes have had an enormous positive impact on communities throughout America. The Department strongly supports reauthorization of VAWA. It is a critical tool that enables us to invest in our nation’s response to these crimes, ensure that perpetrators are held accountable, and provide victims access to the safety and justice they need and deserve.

At the same time, our experience since the Act’s initial passage shows how much more must be done. There are still too few resources to go around. Providing support in rural communities, support for victims in need of civil legal services, and support for victims who become homeless as result of the violence that they experience, remains a critical challenge. Many of the most vulnerable victims face the greatest obstacles in obtaining the services they need. This is particularly true for many American Indian and Alaska Native women, because tribes often lack the resources to support domestic violence and sexual assault survivors.

 I want to challenge all of you to continue building partnerships and alliances among those who are working to combat this problem – across government and in private or faith-based organizations.  Resources are becoming scarcer even as the demand for services is increasing.  But remember that all of you are more powerful working together than you are in working in isolation. 

Law enforcement agencies and community-based agencies need to work together much more closely if we are ever going to address the demand for services we are facing.  None of us can solve this crisis alone.  But by working together, by using every tool at our disposal and by refusing to ever back down or give up, we can make a real difference in our homes, in our communities, in our nation, and around the world.

 The Family Justice Center model is one of the leading life-saving, community-based policing strategies in this country. We applaud you for showing us how to do it right, how to be responsive to all the needs of victims and their children, and how to ultimately break the generational cycle that destroys the lives of women, men, and families.

 Thank you for all you do and all you will do with the inspiration and information you gain at this conference.  You have the power to change the world, and we will all be forever grateful for your commitment to that end.

Updated September 29, 2014