Jefferson County Chosen as One of Seven National Pilot Sites for DOJ Program to Strengthen the Justice System’s Response to Sexual Assault
BIRMINGHAM -- Jefferson County has been selected as one of seven pilot sites nationwide to receive funding through the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women to improve how the justice system in general, and prosecution in particular, handles sexual assault cases, announced U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance, Jefferson County District Attorney Brandon Falls, Sheriff Mike Hale and Crisis Center Executive Director Meg McGlamery.
Through OVW’s Sexual Assault Justice Initiative, the Jefferson County Commission will receive $400,000 to implement performance measures that reflect promising practices for prosecuting sexual assault cases and promoting justice for victims. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the seven pilot sites this week. Jefferson County joins the city of Los Angeles, Cobb County, Ga., the city and county of Honolulu, the New Hampshire Department of Justice in Concord, the Cherokee Nation in Tahlequah, Okla., and Sauk County, Wis.
“Sexual and domestic violence is a heinous crime, inflicting physical and emotional trauma that can linger for years, with grave consequences for survivors and their loved ones; for neighborhoods and communities and for our country as a whole,” Lynch said. “The Department of Justice is committed to doing everything it can to help prevent, investigate and prosecute these horrendous crimes – including working to ensure that our greatest partners in this effort, the state and local law enforcement officers on whom we all rely, have the tools, training and resources they need to fairly and effectively address allegations of sexual assault and domestic violence.”
“Sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking are serious crimes that require a robust criminal justice system response in coordination with community-based organizations and victim service providers,” Vance said. “I am proud of leaders in our community for putting together this outstanding program, which has earned a pilot site designation from the Department of Justice. This program will strengthen prosecutions and promote justice for victims.”
The Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and the non-profit Crisis Center will collaborate on the goals of the initiative. Specifically, funds awarded to Jefferson County will support the development of a specialized unit within the DA’s Office to coordinate investigation and prosecution of sexual assault crimes. The unit will include a bilingual investigator, rape response advocate and special prosecutor. In addition to coordinating investigation and prosecution of sexual assault crimes across the jurisdiction, the special unit will develop and implement a training program for prosecutors and law enforcement, and establish a vertical prosecution program for sexual assaults in Jefferson County, whereby one prosecutor would be assigned to handle a case from start to finish.
The grant award also will support development of enhanced response protocols for the county-wide criminal justice system, and will address reporting barriers for immigrant victims of sexual violence.
“Next year will be a great year for the expansion of services and training of law enforcement, thanks to this Sexual Assault Justice Initiative and the coordinated efforts aimed at combatting sexual assault crimes,” Falls said. “Already this year, my office has worked with the Crisis Center, the YWCA, and the City of Birmingham to launch a Family Justice Center with a focus on assisting victims of sexual assault and domestic violence across Jefferson County. Now, this grant will complement those efforts as a force multiplier aimed at developing best practices in investigation and prosecution, while providing direct training for law enforcement across the county,” he said. “I am thrilled that our efforts in securing this grant have come to fruition, and I look forward to the results we can achieve.”
“I am excited about the possibilities that participation in the Sexual Assault Justice Initiative will offer to victims in Jefferson County,” Hale said. “My office is committed to the success of this project. Every effort will be made to ensure that our deputies participate in the training, support the initiative, and influence other law enforcement agencies to participate.”
“The Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women’s Sexual Assault Justice Initiative will empower survivors of sexual violence to have increased support with and through the criminal justice system,” McGlamery said. “The Crisis Center is excited to deepen our partnership with the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office and the Sheriff’s Office to provide advocacy and support for those affected by this terrible and prevalent crime.”
The Crisis Center asks that anyone who needs assistance related to sexual violence, or knows of someone who needs help, please call its Rape Response hotline at (205) 323-7273. All services are free and confidential.
The Sexual Assault Justice Initiative grants are part of the Justice Department’s ongoing commitment to protecting women from violence and strengthening the capacity of communities to respond to domestic and sexual violence.
The pilot initiative is designed to strengthen the justice system’s response to sexual violence and enhance collaborations among sexual assault victim services providers, law enforcement agencies and sexual assault medical forensic services providers. With funding from the Grants to Encourage Arrest Policies and Enforcement of Protection Orders Program, the Rural Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence and Stalking Grant Program and the Tribal Governments Grant Program, SAJI sites will be able to use the funds to strengthen services in their communities that support sexual assault victims.
For more information on OVW and its programs, please visit: www.justice.gov/ovw.