Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Thank you, John Ashmen. I am so very happy to be here. And what an amazing venue – such a fitting place to highlight the critical role that rescue missions play in lifting up our citizens.
I want to commend the Citygate Network for its tireless commitment to our nation’s poor, dispossessed and abused, and for setting an example of charity and service that we should all aspire to follow.
I especially want to thank you for your faith in the people you serve and in our collective potential to make the world a better place. Our attorney general has said that “only by transforming ourselves can we transform the world beyond ourselves.” You strive, every day, to rekindle the spark of hope that burns in all of us, even in the darkest of times, and in doing that, you are widening the circle of compassion in our society. The Department of Justice is grateful for the incredible things you do.
We are so thankful for the services you provide and the hope you give to those who have experienced adversity, particularly those who have suffered violence in their lives. Sadly, there are far too many people in this category. Some 3.3 million Americans aged 12 years or older were victims of violent crime in 2018. Nearly 350,000 were victims of sexual assault.
These are women, men, and young people who have experienced the trauma of physical harm and the travails of recovery. They have suffered loss of the most profound kind – physical loss yes, financial losses in many cases, and perhaps just as bad, sometimes a loss of faith in humanity. The pain is deep, it is devastating and it is enduring.
Fortunately, the perpetrators of this violence do not get the last word. We are fortunate in this country to be protected by hundreds of thousands of dedicated law enforcement professionals who work hard every day to bring criminals to justice and keep our communities safe. We are also blessed to be surrounded by an army of amazing advocates and service providers who work in cities and towns throughout America to help victims become whole again. One of my office’s major roles is to help these compassionate providers put victims on the road to healing.
Let me first say a word or two about the Office of Justice Programs. OJP is the largest of three grant-making offices in the Department of Justice. We distribute billions of dollars every year to state, local and tribal jurisdictions to fund a wide range of public safety activities – everything from police operations to youth mentoring to reentry programs. We are also the Justice Department’s research and statistical arm. The victimization numbers I gave you a moment ago come from our own Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Our largest account is a pot of money called the Crime Victims Fund, which supports thousands of local victim assistance programs and victim compensation programs in every state. Last year, these programs provided counseling, shelter, transportation and a host of other direct services to over seven million victims. They also paid out almost $400 million in compensation funds to cover expenses like medical costs, therapy fees and loss of income. And what makes this program so wonderful is that it’s not funded by the American taxpayer. It actually comes out of fines and penalties levied against convicted federal offenders. How great is that? Criminals foot the bill for crime victims.
These programs cast a wide net, reaching countless victims of sexual assault, child exploitation, drunk driving, identity theft, elder abuse and other crimes, including those who have lost loved ones to murder. Our goal is to reach as many victims and survivors as possible, and we are fortunate that Congress and the Trump Administration are working hard to give us the tools we need to do that, including historic amounts of victims funding over the last two years.
One of the biggest victim service and public safety challenges we’re facing as a nation is the scourge of human trafficking. I know that your missions have seen a number of human trafficking survivors, and I want to commend you for your commitment to giving these victims the help they so desperately need.
Human trafficking is a global problem with serious local consequences. It is big business, estimated at about $150 billion world-wide, and those who run this massive criminal industry prey upon the most vulnerable. Human trafficking is one of the most underreported and hard-to-detect crimes, which can make it extremely difficult for law enforcement to investigate and for service providers to identify victims and provide support.
It’s a crime that cuts across race, ethnicity, gender and socio-economic categories. It hits affluent suburban communities as well as poor urban neighborhoods. And while victims may be any age, we are seeing young people being ensnared, entrapped and enslaved, which takes these crimes to a whole different level of cruelty.
The Trump Administration and the Department of Justice are attacking this problem from all angles, using every means at our disposal. I’m proud to say that, last year the Justice Department awarded more than $100 million in grants to support direct services for human trafficking victims and human trafficking task forces that bring law enforcement and service providers together to root out trafficking operations.
The investments we’ve made in these programs over the years is making a difference. Our task forces initiated more than 2,500 investigations nationwide in a single year, and victim service grantees reached more than 8,300 clients over a 12-month period.
Grant-funded services are providing an array of necessary services, none more important than housing. We know that finding a place to live is one of the greatest needs of trafficking survivors, and we know that it is used both as an enticement and as a threat by traffickers. Traffickers leverage housing to lure victims into commercial sex and other illicit activities. They then dangle the threat of homelessness to keep the victim from leaving. It is a brutal and unending game of psychological manipulation.
We’ve made addressing this particular problem a top priority. This year, for the first time, our Office for Victims of Crime released a grant solicitation designed to support transitional housing for human trafficking survivors. Perhaps not surprisingly, given what a huge concern this is, we got a terrific response. More than 140 applications are being reviewed, and we hope to have awards out in the spring. We also plan to make a second round of funding available in the fall. All told, this year we hope to award more than $30 million in housing grants.
Already, a number of previously funded organizations have made a concerted effort to address housing needs as part of their portfolio of services. These grantees provided almost 2,000 emergency, transitional or long-term housing placements over a 12 month period. And they are making a difference. Let me give you a couple of examples of this.
A victim came to the attention of Mosaic Family Services in Dallas, one of our many grant recipients. This victim had been sex trafficked for seven years, and several times she required emergency medical treatment. Even when she needed to visit the ER, the trafficker remained outside the room, keeping constant watch so she didn’t tip off a doctor or a nurse. Finally, one day when she left the hospital, she passed a poster advertising the trafficking hotline. She memorized the number and called it during a rare moment when she was alone. Mosaic got the referral and called her, and one day, when the trafficker stepped out briefly, the victim quickly packed her things, met a cab and headed to a transitional housing location. Mosaic staff gave her medical attention, legal guidance and job counseling, among other services, and in little over a year, she was living in her own apartment and working a stable job.
Another young sex trafficking victim found help through Restore, a faith-based organization that provides housing and economic empowerment to survivors in the New York City area. After her rescue, this survivor spent 18 months in Restore’s Safehome, where she had a part-time pet-sitting job. Her case manager helped her transition to a short-term housing situation and secured her an interview for a more stable and better paying job. This victim had limited English proficiency and was not at all confident about her chances, but the empowerment program coached her through the process and she nailed the interview. After several months on the job, she loves it, and she now has an apartment of her own.
These are just two examples of survivors getting the help they needed and starting a new and better life. And in both cases housing, both transitional and long-term, played a critical role in helping them gain independence. It is so inspiring to hear the way these service providers stand by victims, encouraging and empowering them, as they transition from a life of despair and daily trauma to one of growing independence and hope.
We can all be inspired by the incredible difference these programs are making. And many are doing it out of a strong sense of spiritual mission. If you go to the Restore website, you’ll see this line: “Modern-day slavery has no place in God’s plan.” We are all called to a higher purpose, and for some – like all of you – that purpose is ministering to the needs of the suffering, including those who experience abuse at the hands of traffickers.
Human trafficking is heartbreaking, and it is an abomination in the eyes of God. But we can take heart in the words of the Psalmist: “Though they plot evil against you and devise wicked schemes, they cannot succeed.” There is no doubt in my mind that the forces of good will outlast the forces of evil, and the love that you channel through the services you provide is sure to lift up those in need.
I’d like to shift for a moment to another group of people that rescue missions are in a unique position to help. These are the more than 620,000 inmates who come out of our nation’s prisons every year. President Trump has said that, “To realize America’s full potential, we must unlock the talents of every single citizen.” This includes those who have paid their debt to society for crimes they committed in the past. Everyone deserves a chance at redemption and an opportunity to make amends for the wrongs they have done.
The Trump Administration has been a strong supporter of programs that help offenders reenter society. The president signed the First Step Act into law in 2018. That was the biggest piece of criminal justice reform legislation to be enacted in more than a decade. And he recently tapped Pastor Tony Lowden to be the new executive director of the Federal Interagency Council on Crime Prevention and Improving Reentry. Tony will be looking closely at how we can expand the range of treatment options available for returning offenders.
My office plays a huge role in supporting reentry programs. Last year, we awarded nearly $56 million to fund a broad range of reentry services, including housing, job training, drug treatment and family reconciliation. A number of faith-based organizations are among the recipients of these funds. Just to give some examples:
- SoulFisher Ministries in St. Louis runs a program called the Adult General Academic Program of Education, or AGAPE. AGAPE provides a host of services for women inmates – financial literacy, job readiness, cognitive behavioral therapy and housing.
- Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries is another grantee. They’re working with the Michigan Department of Corrections and Michigan State University to reach about 150 medium- to high-risk violent offenders.
- And Family Life Ministries in McDowell County, North Carolina, manages a program that begins providing education, counseling and mentoring 12 months before a prisoner’s release, and they follow up with housing, relationship building and other services for at least a year following release.
These services are so critical to helping former offenders get back on the right path. Our statistics show that five out of every six state prisoners will eventually be rearrested. This means that, without proper support and proper guidance, the vast majority of criminal offenders are likely to come back into the system. This is bad for those offenders, and it’s bad for the communities they return to.
And it isn’t just adult inmates who are at risk. There are also more than 43,000 juveniles in residential placement, virtually all of whom will come out eventually. It is especially crucial that these young people have the skills and the support to make that transition successful
Of course, these individuals – adults and youth – bear responsibility for their own success or failure, but we can all play a role in preparing them for the challenges they will face, by giving them the skills, the confidence and the emotional and spiritual equipment they need to become law-abiding, productive and good citizens.
For our part, the Department of Justice continues to make significant resources available to help community organizations and local and state agencies serve the nation’s returning prisoners and jail inmates. We have several open solicitations inviting organizations to apply for reentry funding under our Second Chance Act programs. I encourage you to check those solicitations out by visiting our website at ojp.gov.
I’ll end by emphasizing the president’s and the attorney general’s strong commitment to supporting religious expression and their recognition of the central role that faith plays in our nation’s civic life. Attorney General Barr has said the Founders broadly agreed about religious liberty. For them, “The imperative of protecting religious freedom was not just a nod in the direction of piety. It reflects the Framers’ belief that religion was indispensable to sustaining our free system of government.”
This Department of Justice believes strongly that faith-based organizations can and should play a major role in ensuring the safety and health of America’s communities. We will continue to make sure our resources are available to help ministries like yours reach the people who need assistance, whether they are wrongdoers trying to change their own behavior or victims of someone else’s wrongs in need of support to start a new and better life.
We applaud Citygate for taking up this important work and for lifting up the “least of these,” as the gospel has directed. We are grateful for all you do, every day, to make our country, and our world, a better, brighter and more loving place.
Thank you, and God bless.
The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice. Learn more about the history of our agency at www.Justice.gov/Celebrating150Years.