~ Tuesday, December 15, 2015
Remarks as prepared for delivery
Good morning. I’m pleased to be here today with three outstanding colleagues: Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division; Bea Hanson, head of the Office on Violence Against Women; and Director [Ron] Davis of our Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. It’s a privilege to join this distinguished group of dedicated law enforcement officers, passionate advocates and engaged community leaders for this vital discussion about how the Department of Justice can help our state, local and tribal partners more effectively combat the scourge of sexual assault and domestic violence.
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. And while the brunt of sexual and domestic violence is borne disproportionately by women and LGBT individuals, make no mistake: it is an affront to us all, threatening the integrity of our communities and violating the dignity of our fellow citizens. 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.
As part of that ongoing effort – and in response to requests for assistance from many of our law enforcement partners – I am pleased to announce a new Justice Department guidance designed to help state, local and tribal agencies eliminate gender bias from their policing practices. Such bias – whether implicit or explicit – can severely undermine the ability of law enforcement to keep survivors safe and to hold offenders accountable. For instance, false assumptions about alcohol use, the physical strength of a victim’s partner or a victim’s sexual orientation can lead police to make judgments about the truthfulness of the survivor’s account or the severity of the assault that are simply wrong. And when bias interferes with a law enforcement response, justice can be delayed and victims can suffer.
This new guidance was prepared in consultation with law enforcement organizations to best address their needs and with advocates who do vital work in this area and it is designed to help combat bias in a number of important ways. It contains guidelines for recognizing and addressing stereotypes and assumptions; interview techniques that encourage victims to share critical information; and recommendations for gathering and using crime reporting statistics to inform evidence-based and data-driven strategies. Taken together, this document offers a blueprint that law enforcement can follow as they develop victim-centered and trauma-informed approaches to handling cases of sexual assault and domestic violence.
We know that this approach can work – because we have seen its impact before. In Missoula, Montana, for example, after a 2013 Justice Department investigation found that several local entities were failing to meet their legal responsibilities in responding to sexual assault complaints, we reached four reform agreements geared towards changing the community’s collective practices and policies. Thanks in large part to the extraordinary cooperation of the Missoula Police Department, Missoula has since made tremendous strides, providing more comprehensive victims’ services, promoting trust among members of the community and demonstrating the real and lasting progress that we can make together.
The guidance we are announcing today is an important addition to a wide array of steps the Justice Department is taking to assist our state, local and tribal partners on issues of domestic and sexual violence. Through our National Institute of Justice, we are helping law enforcement better understand and address sexual violence with funding, research and data. Our Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) provides grants and technical assistance aimed at strengthening the way we handle these cases – in fact, just today, OVW announced seven pilot jurisdictions that will receive funds and technical assistance through the Sexual Assault Justice Initiative, which is designed to bolster the justice system’s response to sexual violence at the state and local level. And this past September, I joined Vice President [Joe] Biden to announce that our Bureau of Justice Assistance would be offering $41 million in grants to 20 jurisdictions to help them eliminate or reduce backlogs in untested sexual assault kits.
These are important initiatives – but we still have a great deal more to do. And I want you to know that, in all our efforts, the Justice Department will remain committed to working alongside professionals like the ones assembled here today: from the law enforcement officers who are the first to field complaints and investigate crimes; to the service providers working tirelessly to help survivors heal; to the public officials tasked with creating stronger and safer neighborhoods. You know your communities best and the Department of Justice relies on you to tell us what challenges you face, what trends you encounter, and what assistance you need. We stand ready to offer that assistance, so that together, we can ensure that survivors get the support they need and that justice is faithfully served.
Thank you for contributing your energy and your expertise to that important mission. Thank you for your help, your passion and your support. I look forward to continuing our work together in the days and months ahead.