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Director Rosie Hidalgo Delivers Remarks on the Vision for Reducing Gender-Based Violence in America at the 24th Annual International Family Justice Center Conference


San Diego, CA
United States

Good morning! I want to thank Casey Gwinn for the introduction and express my gratitude to The Alliance for HOPE International for hosting this 24th annual conference and for the opportunity to provide remarks today. I am honored to have the opportunity to serve as the Director of the Office on Violence Against Women, or OVW, and to collaborate with so many dedicated individuals and organizations committed to furthering our nation’s vision for ending domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking and other related forms of gender-based violence, and creating communities and families where everyone can thrive free from the impact of gender-based violence.

I also want to extend my deep gratitude to each of you here today for your hard work, dedication and service; and for coming together to see how we can continue to learn from one another to advance these important goals.

As you know, OVW is tasked with overseeing the implementation of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), landmark bipartisan legislation first enacted by Congress in September 1994. Born from years of grassroots advocacy and the voices and leadership of survivors, VAWA’s 1994 enactment was a testament to the power of collective action in shaping public policy and setting a vision for our nation to advance a society that does not tolerate abuse of any kind. 

And as we prepare to commemorate the 30th anniversary of VAWA this September, it is an opportunity for all of us collectively to reflect on the substantial progress that has been made. Fortunately, there have been significant paradigm shifts in society’s perceptions of these crimes and our responses to them. Individuals and organizations – like Alliance for HOPE and the Family Justice Centers – and all of you here today worked tirelessly to bring these issues out of the shadows, support survivors and hold offenders accountable. However, as you undoubtedly know, we still have much further to go. Many survivors still encounter significant challenges navigating complex systems and accessing critical resources and support that are trauma-informed and survivor-centered and that meet their unique circumstances.

Together we can collectively chart a path forward to strengthen prevention efforts and increase pathways to safety, justice, healing and well-being for survivors and all those impacted by gender-based violence.

The theme of this year’s conference – The Remarkable Power of We – ties in perfectly with this effort. The hallmark of VAWA is a coordinated community response (CCR), which seeks to bring together agencies and community partners across many disciplines to address the important needs of survivors. How each person responds along the way – from law enforcement officers and investigators to healthcare personnel to victim advocates and courtroom officials, to educational institutions, and community-based organizations – is critical to how, or if, a survivor is able to access safety, justice and healing. If each individual or entity works in a silo, this goal for survivors will not be achieved, since survivors’ lives do not exist in siloes. 

This coordinated community approach underpins the Family Justice Center model and it is gratifying to see how this model continues to evolve both nationally and internationally and the ways it has been tailored to meet the needs of different communities. We know that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to serving survivors and we recognize the importance of ensuring multiple avenues for survivors from underserved or historically marginalized communities.

The work being done by Family Justice Centers and other multi-agency, multi-disciplinary initiatives across the country supports survivors while holding offenders accountable and advancing prevention efforts. We are proud of the way that VAWA funding has been able to advance these promising practices, with critical grant funding for all states, territories and many Tribal nations, and through a variety of targeted grant programs. These funds are important in advancing promising practices and leveraging other resources. We know that it takes not only federal funding, but also critical resources from state and local governments, businesses, philanthropy and individuals to continue to advance this vision through the Remarkable Power of We.

In the nearly 30 years of its existence, OVW has given more than $10.5 billion in grants to support efforts across the country that encourage partnerships between the criminal and civil justice system, advocates, community-based organizations and other system and community partners.

We’ve recently visited Family Justice Centers in Texas, Oklahoma and Alabama. It is inspiring to see how they have strengthened the coordinated community response by creating successful partnerships with their U.S. Attorneys’ Offices to address federal firearms prosecutions.

These kinds of partnerships allow real-time resource sharing in response to high-risk domestic violence cases to support victim safety and ensure offender accountability. In Birmingham, Alabama, we visited the One Place Family Justice Center as well as a local community-based organization and project partner, the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama. We learned about how their collaboration, along with a robust CCR involving law enforcement, prosecutors and the courts, resulted in a much stronger effort to provide comprehensive support for survivors. They also highlighted the link between high-risk domestic violence cases and community violence involving firearms and how collaboration with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents enabled them to better address these cases to reduce violence in the home and the community.

We also visited the Palomar Family Justice Center in Oklahoma City, where the U.S. Attorney’s Office focused its Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative on partnering with the Family Justice Center to address high-risk domestic violence cases by prosecuting firearms violations and ensuring that the survivor and her children are connected to comprehensive services and support.

Our stakeholders and policymakers identify what works well and what we can continue to scale up, as well as gaps and barriers that need to be addressed, ensuring that everything we do is rooted in the voices and lived realities of survivors. Each VAWA reauthorization – in 2000, 2005, 2013 and most recently, 2022 – has allowed us to expand and enhance the ways in which we can do this.

Our programs are intended to help grantees create the kind of services that are trauma-informed and survivor-centered, dedicated to helping all victims of intimate partner violence, sexual assault or stalking, regardless of gender. Our programs focus on a strengths-based approach, helping to increase access to services and reduce the barriers that survivors often face. VAWA recognizes the importance of supporting survivors from historically marginalized and underserved communities, many of which are disproportionately impacted by violence, including targeted funding for American Indian and Alaska Native communities, and for community-based organizations focused on a strengths-based approach to increase access to services and reduce the additional barriers that survivors from underserved communities face. Additionally, OVW implements targeted discretionary grant programs that support children and youth, those that work to enhance the allyship of men and boys in prevention efforts, those focused on rural communities, individuals with disabilities, initiatives to address elder abuse and those that are focused on reducing gender-based violence on college campuses, among other grant programs.

Thanks in large part to the advocacy of those of you in the field who tell us what is working and what you need, VAWA funding increased by more than 30% in just the last three years, allowing us to distribute a record amount of grant funding. In Fiscal Year 2024, Congress increased VAWA funding to $713 million, which is the highest amount that has ever been appropriated. And we’re continuing to expand: largely due to VAWA’s 2022 reauthorization, this year we’re implementing many new programs.

New protections in the latest reauthorization of VAWA also respond to emerging issues. For example, the 2022 VAWA reauthorization defined “technological abuse” for the first time, a recognition that despite the vast good that comes from our various technological devices, would-be offenders now have unprecedented access to technology that can be used to harm victims, which surpasses anything envisioned when VAWA first became law. The statistics are alarming: one in three women under the age of 35 are stalked or harassed online. As technology continues to advance, we are committed to advancing protections for survivors of technology-facilitated gender-based violence. This includes funding a National Resource Center on Cybercrimes Against Individuals for the first time, as well as a new Local Law Enforcement Grants for Enforcement of Cybercrimes Program. These grants will increase national training and technical assistance, as well as provide resources for law enforcement, prosecutors and victim service providers to support victims of cybercrimes, including victims of the non-consensual distribution of intimate images, such as deep fakes, as well as cyberstalking.

VAWA 2022 also authorized new programs dedicated to training law enforcement on trauma-informed, survivor-centered responses to gender-based violence. These grants complement the Justice Department’s updated guidance from 2022 on Improving Law Enforcement Response to Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence by Identifying and Preventing Gender Bias. One of the new grant programs launched this year is the Demonstration Program on Trauma-informed, Victim-Centered Training for Law Enforcement on Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking Program, also known as the Abby Honold program. Abby was a college student who was sexually assaulted while a student at the University of Minnesota. Her case was initially mishandled by law enforcement, and she encountered numerous barriers while seeking services from the various systems she approached after reporting her assault. Despite this, she continues to be a tireless advocate for survivors like herself, working to change how such cases are handled.

We are also launching new grant programs that were established in VAWA 2022 to support additional pathways to safety, healing and justice. We recently awarded three grants that support national technical assistance and training for restorative practices. This is the precursor to the launch of a new restorative practices pilot program that was included in the 2022 VAWA reauthorization. This initiative also includes robust funding for evaluation so that we can continue to learn how to meet the needs of survivors.

We have held many listening sessions to continue learning about different models. For example, the Contra Costa Family Justice Center in California recently began a partnership with the CHAT Project, which is a restorative justice project. CHAT stands for “Collective Healing and Transformation.” This engages those who have been impacted by violence and voluntarily seek a restorative approach, bringing together community members and experts in restorative practices, as well as non-profit experts in the domestic and sexual violence field, to expand restorative responses.

As we all move forward to strengthen and expand efforts to prevent and address gender-based violence, we know that harnessing “the Remarkable Power of We” is essential. Multidisciplinary approaches that are survivor-centered, trauma-informed and rooted in a coordinated community response are the best way for survivors to feel heard, respected and supported as they walk their unique path to safety, healing and justice.

There has been significant progress over the last 30 years, and this would not have been possible without the amazing commitment of organizations like the Alliance for Hope and the work that each of you does every day. As we move forward, it is important that this work be rooted in hope and a vision where individuals, families and communities can thrive free from violence. Together, our collective action can make it a reality.

Thank you all for your dedication to this work and your willingness to keep learning from and supporting one another. I hope you continue to benefit from your time here at the conference and that each of you comes away feeling re-energized and inspired, and ready to keep working together toward this shared vision.

Updated April 24, 2024