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Principal Deputy Director Allison Randall Delivers Remarks at the Institute on Violence, Abuse and Trauma Conference


Honolulu, HI
United States

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Good morning and mahalo nui loa for having me here today. It’s an honor to be with all of you at such a profoundly trauma-informed gathering. Thank you to Sandi Capuano Morrison, Bob Geffner and everyone at the Institute on Violence, Abuse and Trauma (IVAT) who made this conference happen.

I know many of us here today have turned our own trauma into action. And that’s powerful. But it’s heavy. We fight for all survivors to have options and choices and truly comprehensive wellness and connectedness. We have to claim that for ourselves, too. Thank you to IVAT for being so mindful about this because we have to thrive to be able to do this work well and over the long haul.

So, everyone take a deep breath, remember that you are enough, give yourself and everyone around you a little grace and then we can change the world together.

I’m not an expert on working with children, but adult survivors of domestic and sexual violence and stalking know best what they need to stay safe. Their lives are complex and rich and intersectional, and we have to give them what they are asking us for and let them build on all the incredible strengths they bring to the table.

That means we need culturally specific services and community-based programs. It means we need holistic responses that meet people where they are – both figuratively and literally. It means we need the criminal justice system to work but that we need other choices, too. Above all else, it means we must be led by survivors.

I’m in the midst of a trip to American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Hawai’i, listening to and learning from community members, service providers and partners who are doing exactly that: creating solutions that are by and for the community and by and for survivors.

The American Samoa Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence built their version of a traditional Samoan fale. When I arrived, survivors were there learning from an elder about how to weave mats from pandanus leaves, a vanishing craft in American Samoa. This is a culturally specific time for healing – doing a meaningful activity while talking through relationships and challenges and next steps – but it’s not just that. The program pays survivors a stipend for their time while they are learning and weaving the mats, and then the program can auction the mats to raise funds. It’s putting money into survivors’ hands to do whatever they need and it’s a skill these survivors can use for years to come for additional income.

The Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) funds this type of work through our Transitional Housing Program and our Culturally Specific Services Program, but we also have an exciting, brand-new grant program focused on flexible financial support to address the economic needs of survivors – whether it is paying back-rent, new tires for a car to get to work or putting food on the table. The solicitation for that grant will be released soon, and I urge everyone to take a look at it.

Another organization I met last week, the American Samoa Alliance Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, is using one of OVW’s Rural Program grants to train community-based fa’afafine advocates and to build an infrastructure to support these advocates. The Alliance notes that “Fa’afafine, a Samoan term meaning “in the manner of a woman,” refers to individuals who identify as a third gender, embodying both masculine and feminine qualities and that a response to violence against fa’afafine requires “addressing the intersecting factors of gender, sexuality, race and class.” The Alliance is providing funds to the Society of Fa’afafine in American Samoa so that they can do that work within their own community.

Here in Hawai’i, We Are Oceania works with the Micronesian community. They told me, “When a woman knows who she is, she has a lot of power,” and talked about how reconnecting with their culture and being proud of their heritage, despite facing widespread discrimination, was transformative for young people. They also said that survivors don’t necessarily want to leave or get divorced, they just want the violence to stop and that culturally they look for “win-win” solutions.

We hear this a lot, and survivors keep asking for restorative practices as an option instead of or alongside the criminal justice system. I am happy to announce that we recently awarded grants to ValorUS, New York University and Men as Peacemakers to support technical assistance for restorative practices. Very soon, we will be releasing a solicitation for pilot sites to implement community-based restorative practices. Please check it out and share it with anyone who is doing restorative justice work.

OVW has distributed over $10.5 billion in grants since the inception of the office. Our initiatives encourage partnerships that strengthen communities’ capacity to combat domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. Our funding supports historically marginalized and underserved communities, which are disproportionately impacted by violence, as well as targeted funding for Indian Country and Alaska Native villages. These programs focus on a strengths-based approach to help increase access to services and reduce barriers to safety and support. I urge you to visit our website to explore our funding opportunities – we have many solicitations open at this moment.

I’m proud to say that over the last three years, VAWA funding has increased by more than 30%. In 2024, we are also implementing new grant programs – part of a continued expansion due mostly to the 2022 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

This includes a new initiative known as the Abby Honold Program that provides training for law enforcement to implement trauma-informed and survivor-centered responses. It’s named after a college student who was sexually assaulted and whose case was initially mishandled by law enforcement. She felt continually let down by the various systems she encountered after she reported her assault. She worked for many years on behalf of other survivors like herself to change how those kinds of cases are handled by law enforcement.

This program complements the Justice Department’s 2022 guidance on Improving Law Enforcement Response to Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence by Identifying and Preventing Gender Bias. Law enforcement agencies that adopt this guidance can promote a sense of trust within communities while helping enhance victim and survivor safety and holding offenders accountable.  

Empowering survivors to lead in addressing domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking means creating spaces where their voices are central to shaping the solutions. It means acknowledging the strength and resilience that survivors bring to the table and leveraging their insights to create more effective responses. It requires deeply trauma-informed approaches that dismantle the systemic barriers that perpetuate violence. And to work, it needs real relationships with communities and partners.

Pouhana ‘O Nā Wāhine reminded me yesterday that connections must be relational, not transactional. Pouhana, a domestic violence resource center “for Native Hawaiian women, by Native Hawaiian women,” is “dedicated to helping Native Hawaiians address domestic violence and related injustices through restoring their Native way of life rooted in their cultural beliefs, practices and ceremonies.” They are accomplishing that by growing and tending to those individual and community relationships.

In closing, I want to express my deepest gratitude to each of you for your dedication in building a world free of violence, abuse and trauma. You are building a world where gender-based violence is not tolerated, and where healing and justice are accessible to all.

Thank you for your partnership, your courage and your compassion.

Now let’s take another deep breath and go change the world.

Updated April 8, 2024