“We must continue our work to eliminate sexual assault from our society and promote safe relationships, homes, and communities… We must support victims and survivors unremittingly.” These words from President Trump in his proclamation of April as National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month describe the commitment that all the staff at the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) bring to work every day.
I have been a passionate defender of the law and the needs of victims for many years. In my 11 years as a State trial court judge, and as a prosecutor and in private practice before that, I saw firsthand the work of victim service providers, advocates, prosecutors, and the way the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has influenced public thought about sexual assault. The coordinated community response supported by VAWA is vital to making inroads in eradicating sexual assault. We need to hold offenders accountable and bring best practice services to survivors.
OVW grantees report that more sexual assault victims are being served, more medical forensic exams are being performed, and more sexual assault cases are referred to prosecutors since VAWA reauthorization of 2013 which brought an increased focus on combatting sexual assault. For example, the number of sexual assault victims receiving Improving Criminal Justice Responses Program-funded services increased by 114 percent between 2013 and 2016.
One beneficiary of Improving Criminal Justice Responses Program funding is Michigan's Sexual Assault Unit, which successfully prosecuted Larry Nassar, the former doctor for USA Gymnastics who sexually assaulted over 150 young women and girls. The OVW grant also assisted in providing access to services for Nassar’s victims.
President Trump’s National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month Proclamation highlighted a recent OVW initiative to better assist victims by providing tailored responses to the unique needs of each victim: The Sexual Assault Victim Intervention Services Technical Assistance Center. This new resource will help community officials and organizations appropriately respond to sexual assault with comprehensive victim intervention services.
The Sexual Assault Victim Intervention Services Technical Assistance Center is just one of OVW’s myriad efforts to end sexual assault in this country. And our efforts depend on you. You are on the frontlines, making a difference in the lives of survivors and holding perpetrators accountable. Our nation highlights sexual assault prevention this month, but we at OVW celebrate your work, mourn your losses, and stand together with you every day of the year. Thank you all.