Justice News

Principal Deputy Director Bea Hanson of the Office on Violence Against Women Delivers Remarks at the National Sexual Assault Conference
Washington, DC
United States
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Thursday, September 1, 2016

Thank you for that kind introduction.  I want to thank the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence and the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault for all of your hard work to make NSAC 2016 a huge success. And, for birthing Raliance and its visionary mission – ending sexual violence in one generation.  Wouldn’t that be amazing?  What an aspiration and inspiration for us all.  Ending sexual violence in one generation.

And a special thank you to all of the presenters and participants for making the commitment to attend this conference and share both your passion and your knowledge.  It’s inspiring to be in a room with so many people working day in and day out to make a real difference in the lives of so many victims and survivors each day.  It is truly the commitment of the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) – since its inception 21 years ago – and the Obama Administration to make sustaining partnerships with you and your organizations to prevent and respond to sexual assault.

Lessons Learned

As this administration comes to a close – hard to believe – my colleagues and I have been reflecting on what we know about sexual violence, what we have learned and the areas in which we believe we need to focus our attention to continue to make strides in preventing and improving our responses to sexual assault.  Some of the key things we have learned are that victims are more likely to go to the police and through the criminal justice system if they have a supportive advocate.  That specialized police units, prosecution units and courts with expertise in sexual violence more often result in better outcomes for victims.  Effective sexual assault prevention programs must be sustained over time – not just a one-shot deal.  Victims who receive comprehensive advocacy and services are more likely to heal and thrive than those who do not.  That testing sexual assault kits matters and requires a victim-centered approach. On-going training of police, health workers, prosecutors, judges and other professionals is instrumental in supporting survivors and responding effectively to sexual violence.  And efforts to address sexual violence are particularly effective when they are combined and integrated into a coordinated community response.

We know that culturally-specific populations such as communities of color, immigrants, the LGBT community, people with disabilities, people who are incarcerated or formerly incarcerated, American Indian and Alaska Native populations often have the highest rates of victimization in our communities.  We need to support the development and growth of culturally-specific organizations to meet the needs of those who are traditionally marginalized in our communities.

During this administration, we have celebrated a number of victories to improve our nation’s response to sexual assault.  I want to highlight just a few of them.  In 2012, Attorney General [Eric] Holder announced that the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report definition of rape was updated from “the carnal knowledge of a woman” to account for all forms of rape, regardless of the victim’s gender, relationship to the offender or the mode of penetration.  It also includes instances in which the victim is incapacitated and thus incapable of giving consent.  Also, in 2012, the department released standards for implementation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, outlining requirements for correctional facilities to institute a comprehensive approach to preventing and addressing sexual assault.  In 2013, the department released an updated National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Exams for Adults and Adolescents and a companion guide designed to assist administrators of prisons, jails and community confinement facilities in responding to reports of sexual assault.  This year, we released a similar protocol for pediatrics.

And, the passage of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 includes an increased emphasis on sexual assault.  It includes designated funding and new purpose areas for sexual assault response teams, sexual assault nurse examiner programs, and specialized law enforcement units.  These activities all promote a coordinated response to sexual assault that is grounded in practices that research tells us are either promising or proven effective.

Sexual Assault Justice Initiative

Last year, at this conference, I announced a new special project at OVW: the Sexual Assault Justice Initiative (SAJI), a partnership between OVW, AEquitas: The Prosecutor’s Resource on Violence Against Women, the National Institute of Justice, RAND Corporation and seven pilot sites that are committed to enhancing their approaches to prosecuting sexual assault.

SAJI involves the development and implementation of performance measures for sexual assault prosecution that look beyond just conviction rates and reflect best practices.  Very few rapes ever result in a conviction and even a case that was handled expertly by the system can still result in an acquittal.  So, through SAJI, we’re looking at how to measure the quality of prosecutors’ work on sexual assault cases in a way that accounts for their use of effective practices, regardless of a case’s final disposition.

Seven site prosecutors’ offices, including the city of Los Angeles; Cobb County, Georgia; Jefferson County, Alabama; Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma; the state of New Hampshire; Sauk County, Wisconsin; and Honolulu, will be receiving technical assistance for implementing best practices that will test the performance measures.  An independent evaluator will look at the impact of the performance measures on charging decisions, case outcomes and victims’ perceptions of justice.  We hope that this project will help prosecutors define and measure success that is truly victim centered.

Gender Bias Policing

As many of you know, last December, the Department of Justice issued guidance to law enforcement designed to combat gender discrimination in how police respond to reports of domestic and sexual violence.  The guidance enumerates eight principles that law enforcement should adhere to in order to identify gender bias and prevent bias from interfering with investigations of crimes for which women and LGBT individuals are most often victims.  The principles include treating victims with respect and fully investigating sexual assault and domestic violence complaints.  The guidance was developed collaboratively with law enforcement and with the involvement of police membership organizations. 

Award Announcements

We are in the process of making awards for fiscal year 2016.  The official notifications are going out every day and everything will be issued by Sept. 30.  But I wanted to alert you to a few specific grant programs.

First, the Sexual Assault Services Program (SASP).  This is the first federal funding stream solely dedicated to providing direct services to victims of sexual assault.  In fiscal year 2016, we are awarding: almost $23 million for SASP formula grants, $3.5 million for culturally specific services and $3.5 million to tribal programs. 

Second, gender-bias.  To support the implementation of the Attorney General’s guidance on preventing and responding to gender bias in policing that I mentioned earlier, OVW is awarding eight grants totaling $4.5 million.  Five of these gender bias awards come out of our “Improving Criminal Justice Response” program to local communities implementing the guidance in their jurisdiction; two are for technical assistance for communities across the country; and one is a research project.

Speaking of research, this year, OVW released its first ever solicitation for research and evaluation.  The National Institute of Justice continues its important violence against women research and funds from OVW will complement that research by funding smaller projects that involve strong collaborative partnerships between researchers and practitioners.  This year we prioritized projects that focus on innovative practices and those that serve marginalized communities.  We received many quality applicants and I’m very happy to announce that we will be awarding nine grants this year totaling $3.3 million and covering a wide and highly promising range of topics.  Stay tuned for more details in the coming weeks.

And finally, campus sexual assault awards.  Addressing the issue of sexual assault on college campuses has been a priority for President [Barack] Obama, Vice President [Joe] Biden, Attorney General [Loretta E.] Lynch and men and women on college campuses throughout the country.  At OVW this year, funding to our campus grant program increased from $12 million in 2015 to $20 million in 2016, enabling us to award 45 new campus awards.  In addition, this year we implemented a special campus legal services project as part of OVW’s Legal Assistance to Victims Program to respond to the need for comprehensive approaches to legal services for college and university students who are victims of sexual assault, both on and off campus.  We are awarding a total of 16 grants under this special initiative.  That makes the total award amount for campuses nearly $30 million. 

I would like to take this opportunity to express my deep gratitude to each of you on behalf of the Department of Justice, Attorney General Lynch, OVW and advocates, victims and survivors across the country for the work that you do each and every day.  None of us can solve these problems alone and we need all of us working together to make change possible.

Thank you.