Thank you, Tony, for those kind words, and for your leadership as Associate Attorney General. I’d also like to thank Mary Lou for the outstanding work that she and her colleagues in the Office of Justice Programs are leading . It’s a privilege to take part – once again – in this important annual ceremony. And it’s a pleasure to join so many friends, colleagues, and passionate advocates in celebrating the achievements of this year’s National Crime Victims’ Service Award recipients.
I’d like to extend a special welcome to each of today’s honorees – along with the proud family members and supporters who have traveled from far and wide to help us pay tribute to their outstanding work. I’d like to acknowledge all of the national leaders, critical partners, and dedicated victims’ service providers – in this room and throughout the country – whose daily contributions are instrumental in our work to assist and empower victims. And I’d like to express my heartfelt gratitude – on behalf of President Obama and my Justice Department colleagues – to each of the dedicated men and women who, as we speak, are working around the clock to coordinate victim support with the City of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the aftermath of last week’s heinous and cowardly terrorist attack.
As our comprehensive investigation unfolds, and we continue to seek justice on behalf of all who were killed or injured in this incident – I’m confident that their efforts will touch and improve the lives of countless ordinary citizens and law enforcement officials who were impacted by this tragedy. And I want each of them to know that – by providing direct assistance, offering support, and aiding in the healing process, they are not only standing with those in need – in a larger sense, they’re also helping to ensure, and make real, our nation’s fundamental promise of justice for all.
This promise lies at the heart of today’s ceremony – and at the center of the remarkable work of those we’ve gathered to celebrate. Although none of our awardees sought special recognition for their actions, all of them richly deserve it. And all should be commended for their dedication to helping others, and their determination – even under the most difficult circumstances – to make a positive difference.
From safeguarding victims of sexual violence, to helping survivors recover and reach their full potential – some of this year’s award recipients have provided invaluable assistance to those who are struggling to get their lives back on track. Others are being recognized for their work to identify and implement new technologies , resources, and training programs – and to build support for innovative policy initiatives, legislative proposals, and needed litigation assistance – that can help to lessen the physical, emotional, and financial impact of crime.
One of our honorees transformed a heartbreaking personal tragedy into a powerful force for positive action by promoting nonviolence and strengthening community relations. Another employed the skills he gained during an impressive career in law enforcement to help solve cold cases and bring some degree of comfort to victims of sexual assault. And yet another came forward to provide crisis intervention and support to victims and eyewitnesses of the tragic mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona, in 2011.
All of them are improving lives – and giving voice to every victim’s right to respect, restitution, and relief. Many are pioneering new strategies for engaging with federal, state, local, and tribal authorities to help guard against exploitation, abuse, human trafficking, sexual violence, and online threats. Through counseling sessions and educational programs, some have restored hope to victims whose lives have been shattered. And all are raising public awareness about our work to address persistent needs – and to take our comprehensive victim support efforts to a new level.
Of course, I realize that – in this time of budgetary uncertainty, when sequestration has imposed untenable cuts across every federal agency, and so many government leaders have been asked to do more with less – advancing this critical work has in many ways never been more difficult. But it’s also never been more important. And that’s why, today – as we gather in observance of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week – I want to assure you that the Department of Justice is more determined than ever to help ensure your continued success. We are proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with each of the leaders in this room – to help move this country toward the goals we share. And I’m proud to report that we are proving our determination – and backing up our commitment – with a plan for action.
Thanks to the tireless work of public servants throughout OJP – and, especially, its Office for Victims of Crime, under the leadership of Principal Deputy Director Joye Frost – over the last four years, the Department has provided training opportunities, enhanced resources, and development support to fulfill our responsibilities to crime victims. Through important programs like OVC’s groundbreaking Vision 21 initiative, we’ve developed a clearer understanding of the needs and challenges facing the crime victim advocacy field. And we’re working to address these needs by providing investments in cutting-edge research, legal assistance, and evidence-based policy solutions.
Earlier today, at an event on Capitol Hill sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy – a longtime supporter of crime victims, and a fierce advocate for the Crime Victims Fund – OVC released the framework for the Vision 21: Transforming Victim Services initiative. When the full report is unveiled, it will lay out a blueprint for closing gaps in victim-related research, expanding reporting systems, and securing more flexibility in the administration of the Victims of Crime Act to bolster the capacity of victim assistance providers.
I’m pleased that the President’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2014 allocates $45 million to build on the important work Vision 21 has made possible – including $20 million to support Tribal Assistance for Victims of Violence. I look forward to working with Congress to secure the passage of this budget plan, and to address the needs and concerns raised in this new report. In the meantime, however, I’m also determined to keep working under existing authorities to expand our comprehensive victim assistance efforts – and to do so starting immediately.
As many of you know – in addition to National Crime Victims’ Rights Week – today’s ceremony falls during Sexual Assault Awareness Month. I can think of no better time to pay tribute to those who serve as champions for individuals in need – including two awardees who are being honored for their work with victims of sexual assault. And I am proud to announce – today – that the Department is releasing an updated National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations – or, SAFE Protocol. The Department developed this important tool to promote victim recovery, improve the criminal justice response, and ensure offender accountability in the wake of a sexual assault.
The SAFE Protocol offers specific guidelines, practices, and recommendations that will strengthen our ability to preserve, collect, and analyze evidence. It draws on the expertise and insight of the healthcare providers, legal practitioners, law enforcement personnel, victim advocates, forensic scientists, and others who are engaged in this important work every day. And it will enable us to harness the latest technologies, data-driven policies, and cutting-edge strategies to help all victims of sexual assault – including those with limited English proficiency, victims with disabilities, tribal communities, military service members, and LGBT individuals.
Along with our sweeping efforts to engage a broader range of allies and partners – from mental health and elder abuse prevention groups, to law enforcement professionals; from faith-based organizations, to hospitals and victim service organizations – big and small – this new Protocol is emblematic of the Justice Department’s revitalized commitment to reduce and address victimization wherever it occurs. Together with the new Vision 21 framework, it represents a promising roadmap for the future of our comprehensive efforts. And today’s ceremony serves as an essential reminder that – despite all that this community has achieved; despite the pride we take in the service our awardees have rendered to their communities and our nation; and despite the promising work that’s underway throughout the country – we cannot yet afford to be satisfied. This is no time to become complacent. Each of us has a responsibility to do even more.
In communities across America – from Tucson, to Newtown, to Boston, and far beyond – we’re depending on leaders like you to guide and inform our work. We’re relying on you to help rally new partners to this cause. And we’re counting on you to keep driving the progress our citizens so desperately need; keep inspiring our nation to aim higher; and keep pushing us all to become better when it comes to serving and assisting those who are in need.
Thanks to this year’s awardees, I’m confident that we’re already on the right track. As I look around this crowd, I’m certain that – if we remain focused, and continue to engage with one another – there’s no limit to what we can achieve together. And I look forward to where our comprehensive efforts will lead us in the months and years ahead.
Congratulations, once again, to each of our National Crime Victims’ Service Award recipients. I urge all of you to keep up the great work. And it’s now my privilege to introduce a key leader of these efforts in the United States Congress – and a survivor of the 2011 Tucson shootings, who knows firsthand the power and importance of your work – Representative Ron Barber.