Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks at the Investiture of Director Rosie Hidalgo of the Office on Violence Against Women
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Good morning. Thank you so much for that kind introduction and powerful conversation, Dr. Willie. I’m grateful to Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Bloomberg American Health Initiative and Johns Hopkins for hosting this impactful event today and inviting me to participate. Your work in raising awareness of public health issues, such as food insecurity, juvenile justice, gender-based violence, racism and inequity, is so important in considering how best to address these issues and how they are interconnected, as well as explore what kinds of resources and policies can help bring about meaningful change.
And let there be no mistake – gender-based violence is an important public health issue that requires multi-leveled prevention and survivor-centered, trauma-informed solutions. It must be addressed at the individual, relational, community and societal levels. The costs and impacts associated with the long-lasting effects of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking place such a high burden on survivors.
I want to take a moment to acknowledge the important work that the Bloomberg American Health Initiative has been doing in violence prevention. The Initiative’s efforts have been instrumental in identifying and supporting the implementation of evidence-based solutions to address intimate partner violence, including increasing access to safe and stable housing for survivors, addressing the role of systematic racism, exploring the use of extreme risk protection orders and understanding the impacts of COVID-19 on domestic violence.
The Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) at the DOJ has the responsibility of overseeing the implementation of the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA. VAWA was first enacted nearly 30 years ago, and each reauthorization of VAWA, including the most recent one in 2022, has continued to expand programs and policies to improve our nation’s response to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.
OVW oversees an array of grant programs and initiatives that help to identify and support promising practices and to strengthen a coordinated community response.
Research shows that there’s a higher risk of lethality for those who are experiencing domestic violence (DV) if there is a gun present in the home. To improve the implementation of effective policies, OVW funds pilot sites around the country through the Firearm Technical Assistance Project. This is connected to the Department of Justice’s ongoing efforts to reduce violent crime and help communities across the country reduce domestic violence homicides and injuries committed with firearms. In addition, OVW funds a National Resource Center on Domestic Violence and Firearms – which is a national training and technical assistance project that takes a multi-pronged approach at the local, state, Tribal and national levels to implement protections for DV victims and prevent domestic-violence-related firearm homicides.
At OVW, we’re trying to not only reduce DV homicides but also address the high levels of threats, coercion and other harms perpetrated by firearms that undermine the safety and stability of survivors. While removing firearms in highly lethal situations is an essential approach to violence reduction, we know that it is not sufficient and that a much more holistic approach is necessary to support the safety and stability of survivors and provide different pathways for survivors to seek assistance.
OVW’s Transitional Housing Assistance Grants provide safe and stable housing for survivors who are homeless or in need of transitional housing because of a situation of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence or stalking and for whom emergency shelter services or other crisis intervention services are unavailable or insufficient. The Transitional Housing programs can provide wraparound services, like counseling, childcare, transportation and job training – as we know, it takes more than just safe housing for a survivor to thrive after leaving an abusive situation.
Just as the American Health Initiative has focused on systematic racism and centering the voices of those at the margins, OVW is committed to improving access to justice for all survivors and reducing barriers to safety and services faced by survivors in underserved and historically marginalized communities. We know that no form of oppression exists in a vacuum and survivors’ lives are complex, that’s why we are focused on funding programs that take intersectional approaches – approaches that reflect the lived experiences of survivors and address survivors’ needs holistically, and that also provide a strengths-based approach supporting the leadership and capacity building in different communities to prevent and address these forms of abuse.
In the United States, we have been making meaningful progress on addressing these issues, thanks to legislation like the Violence Against Women Act, the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act and other federal and state legislation and initiatives that have been rooted in the advocacy of survivors and advocates on the front lines. President Biden talks about his experience in the Senate 30 years ago as a lead author and champion of the VAWA legislation, when some people would say domestic violence was a private family matter, best kept behind closed doors. VAWA helped shine a light on justice and strengthen our nation’s commitment to preventing and addressing domestic violence and other forms of gender-based violence. Since its establishment, the Office on Violence Against Women, which VAWA created, issued more than $10 billion in grant funding to communities, Tribal nations, coalitions, states, colleges and universities and non-profit groups to support survivors and community-led efforts to address domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. For the 2023 fiscal year, VAWA appropriations reached $700 million, following an unprecedented increase of over 30% during the past two years, and OVW issued more than 800 grants.
And yet, undoubtedly, we have further to go. A hallmark of VAWA has been to continue to strengthen a coordinated community response at the local level - recognizing the importance of many different sectors: law enforcement, the court system, counselors and support services like transitional housing and legal assistance, as well as the health care system, child welfare, education and other sectors. Similarly, we recognize the need for a coordinated response at the federal level to strengthen a whole-of-government approach to address these issues successfully. That’s one of the reasons why VAWA’s reauthorization last year was so important: it continued to strengthen the work that federal agencies do to end gender-based violence (GBV). The Department of Housing and Urban Development created a new office that’s focused on preventing and addressing gender-based violence and has increased funding for targeted programs to provide access to housing for survivors and increase training on GBV issues. And the Department of Health and Human Services created a new senior-level position focused on issues of sexual violence and the prevention of gender-based violence and recently distributed an additional $1 billion through the American Rescue Plan to improve access to services and support for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
This critical work at the federal level to strengthen the role many different federal agencies can play in preventing and addressing GBV is reflected in the first-ever U.S. National Plan to End Gender-Based Violence, which the White House released in May of this year. This National Plan identifies seven strategic pillars undergirding its approach; all are essential and collectively provide a roadmap for the federal government to continue to make substantial inroads to ending gender-based violence.
All the pillars of the national plan are important, but I’d like to highlight a few. The first pillar is focused on prevention. Through expanding our Campus Grants, OVW is continuing to strengthen prevention initiatives.
The second pillar is about providing trauma-informed resources that meet survivors where they are – ensuring multiple pathways for safety, support and healing. This is reflected throughout OVW’s grant programs and national training.
The fourth pillar addresses online harassment and abuse and calls for a coordinated approach in the federal government to handle online forms of gender-based violence, improving services and access to justice for survivors. OVW will fund two programs newly authorized by VAWA 2022, including a National Resource Center on Cybercrimes Against Individuals and grants to provide training and support to state, Tribal and local law enforcement, prosecutors and judicial personnel to assist victims of cybercrimes. OVW will also launch an initiative focused on prosecuting and investigating online abuse.
The fifth pillar involves legal and justice systems – ensuring that justice systems are responsive to survivors’ needs and provide a range of options for survivors seeking justice, including restorative justice approaches that are survivor-centered. OVW will be implementing new provisions in VAWA 2022 to establish a pilot program and provide training and technical assistance on restorative practices. Our grants will expand survivors’ options for seeking justice and healing while protecting survivors' safety and autonomy.
As OVW continues its longstanding role in collaborating with other federal agencies, we look forward to strengthening a whole-of-government approach to expand access to services and support for survivors.
We’ve come a long way, but there is so much more to do. While the federal government has an important role to play, we know that it takes everyone in different sectors, including local and state government, community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, philanthropy and at the personal level to be a part of reducing violence and creating homes and communities where everyone can thrive free from violence.
Thank you for providing me this opportunity to speak with you today and I look forward to ongoing opportunities for collaboration to advance these shared goals.