Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you, Sandra [Henriquez], for that kind introduction. I want to thank you and Delilah [Rumburg], and the entire staff of the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape for all of your hard work to make NSAC 2015 a huge success. And a special thank you to all of you—presenters and participants—for making the commitment to attend this conference and share both your passion and your knowledge. It is truly 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 every day. Thank you. And, it is my honor to be here with Valerie Jarrett, Carrie Bettinger-Lopez, and Debra Houry—just to show the true commitment of this Administration to address the issue of sexual assault—front and center.
This year’s theme, Inspired by Progress, United by Purpose, is particularly resonant to me. As many of you know, in October 2014, OVW launched a national tour to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act—starting in my hometown Brooklyn, New York. Over the past year, I have traveled to 20 states, visited nearly 50 communities and heard from hundreds of survivors, victim advocates, culturally-specific organizations, medical professionals, police officers, prosecutors, judges and others about their community’s commitment to ending domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking. Here are just a few examples of what I saw: a poetry slam in Boise, Idaho, with high school and middle school kids sharing, in rhyme, their experiences with sexual and dating violence; a sexual assault nurse examiner program in a new hospital on the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma; in New York City, a domestic violence organization serving the Asian community making significant organizational changes to provide services to sexual assault survivors; a comprehensive program for homeless youth impacted by sexual assault in King County, Washington; and a sexual assault prevention program created by young men in Kake, a remote Alaska Native Village. These visits provide us at OVW with a better understanding of how best practices and lessons learned are playing out across the country and areas in which we still have gaps.
Through our 20 years of work, we have learned 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 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. 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. These are just a few examples of what we have learned.
We have recently celebrated a number of victories to improve our nation’s response to sexual assault. The first is an issue that I worked on for decades as an advocate—as have many of you. Three years ago, the Attorney General 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. In 2013, the department released an updated National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Exams and a companion guide designed to assist administrators of prisons, jails and community confinement facilities in responding to reports of sexual assault.
And the passage of VAWA 2013 includes a greater emphasis on sexual assault than ever before. 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.
Over the past few years, OVW has established a priority for sexual assault in recognition of the lack of adequate services to victims and the need to improve law enforcement response and increase prosecutions. And I am making two important announcements today related to our prioritizing of sexual assault. First, I am excited to announce the release of a new solicitation: the Sexual Assault Justice Initiative. We invite applications from prosecutors’ offices interested in adopting a set of performance measures that focus on the use of effective prosecution strategies and victims’ experiences with the justice process to gauge prosecutorial success. We anticipate selecting up to eight sites to receive two-year awards of up to $400,000 each. The solicitation is on our website and www.Grants.gov. Applications are due on Oct. 13, 2015. The Sexual Assault Justice Initiative is an opportunity for prosecutors to learn about, and implement, best practices for sexual assault prosecution.
Ending sexual violence is a priority for the Department of Justice. But this will require creating a culture where victims feel safe reporting the crime, where they will be treated with respect by all of those with whom they come into contact and where offenders are held accountable for their crimes.
We see this most recently in the national conversation about campus sexual assault and I am happy to announce that OVW’s Campus Grant Program is awarding $8.5 million to 27 colleges and universities in 20 states and territories, including two in California. This includes two Historically Black Colleges and Universities, one Tribal College and four Hispanic-serving Institutions. With OVW funds, these campuses will enhance victim services, implement prevention and educational programs and develop and strengthen campus security and investigation strategies to prevent, prosecute and respond to sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking on campuses.
In my four years at OVW, I have felt privileged to witness the leadership and unwavering commitment of the Department of Justice and the Obama Administration to address sexual violence. We are working to ensure that survivors everywhere know that they have a place – and a voice – in this administration; and to build a future where sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking are eradicated.
I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to each of you on behalf of the Department of Justice, Attorney General Lynch, the Office on Violence Against Women 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 partners like you to make change possible. Thank you.