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Release of the Updated National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations, 2d

Today, I was fortunate to join Attorney General Eric Holder, Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West, OVC Principal Deputy Director Joye Frost and OJP Acting Assistant Attorney General MaryLou Leary in honoring 12 extraordinary individuals at the Office for Victims of Crime’s National Crime Victims’ Service Awards Ceremony for demonstrating outstanding service in supporting crime victims and victim services. The ceremony also provided an opportunity to gather together and commemorate National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month (SAAM) and Denim Day. And we celebrated a long-awaited accomplishment – the release of the updated National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations, Adult/Adolescent (SAFE Protocol, 2d.). The Attorney General’s announcement of the revised protocol is a tribute to victims of crime and to all of our partners working tirelessly on the front lines to support survivors.

In the nine years since the protocol was initially released, there have been marked improvements in the “state of the art” for forensic medical examinations. The revised edition maintains the same traditions of standardization, quality, and best practice as the first SAFE Protocol. Like the first edition, this newest version is an indispensable resource, updated with improvements to reflect current technology and practice.

“The SAFE protocol is crucial to our efforts to end sexual violence,” said Attorney General Holder. “It is our responsibility to ensure that victims feel comfortable coming forward. The SAFE Protocol helps us coordinate and improve our response when these courageous individuals do seek help from first responders including nurses, doctors, advocates, law enforcement, and prosecutors.”

The revised SAFE Protocol reflects the many important improvements that can help increase the quality of the services victims receive. There is information on populations with special needs, such as victims with limited English proficiency, victims with disabilities, American Indian and Alaska Native victims, victims in the Military, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender victims. The new version also provides more information on topics such as drug and alcohol facilitated sexual assault, pregnancy, confidentiality, and alternative reporting procedures. The revised version also increases the emphasis on victim-centered care and collaboration, including offering victims an informed choice about participating in the criminal justice system.

Advocates and practitioners who work with sexual assault survivors have a firsthand understanding of the importance of high-quality forensic evidence collection as specified in the SAFE Protocol. When these procedures are used, they make a difference. Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) and Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner (SAFE) programs have been found to improve the quality of forensic evidence, improve law enforcement’s ability to collect information and to file charges, and increase the likelihood of successful prosecution. The updated SAFE Protocol is a tremendous victory for victims of sexual assault and the dedicated SAFEs, SANEs, advocates, law enforcement, and prosecutors that support victims and hold offenders accountable.

We know that SAFE and SANE programs positively impact the experience of victims. SAFEs and SANEs are specially trained to provide compassionate care for victims while collecting evidence that improves outcomes for victims, police, and prosecutors. One study found that sexual assault victims are more likely to engage in investigation and prosecution if they receive care at SANE programs.

As we recognize SAAM, OVW is honored to share this new protocol with all of you as we work together to hold offenders accountable through improved evidence collection and prosecutions. Along with our grantee, the International Association of Forensic Nurses, OVW will be hosting a webinar on Tuesday, May 21 to present additional details on the revised protocol and answer any questions about the update. You can register for the webinar here. I am pleased to share two fact sheets OVW developed highlighting the major updates in the revised SAFE Protocol. The short fact sheet provides a brief summary of the major updates and the long fact sheet has additional detail about the major updates. Download the full SAFE Protocol, 2d at http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ovw/241903.pdf.

January is National Stalking Awareness Month
January 29, 2013 Posted by

Every morning at the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), as one of our first items of business, my staff and I check the headlines related to violence against women – many of those stories involve stalking. On just one day, I read about a murder suspect who was arrested for stalking a witness; a man who was found guilty by a federal jury of stalking his estranged wife and taking her across the state line; and a man who pled guilty to stalking a 13-year-old boy. This small sample illustrates just how complex, misunderstood, and highly underestimated the crime of stalking is in communities across our nation.

Stalking is more prevalent than many people realize, affecting more than six million people a year. One in 6 women and 1 in 19 men have experienced serious stalking victimization at some point during their lifetime. As the headlines suggest, anyone can be a victim of stalking, but females are nearly three times more likely to be stalked than males, and young adults have the highest rates of stalking victimization.

Unfortunately, stalking is still not widely recognized as a dangerous crime that is often a precursor for serious violence, including rape and homicide, and a terrifying aspect of domestic violence. The media too often trivializes it – portraying stalking as romantic or comedic rather than traumatizing and potentially lethal. We can all picture advertisements, songs and movies that send young people the insidious message that stalking is a way to express love. However, many of us are working to counteract these negative messages and speak out on behalf of victims in our communities.

This Administration is focused on the issue of stalking and has expressed its commitment to developing a strong criminal justice response and providing victims with the appropriate services and supports they need. As the President stated in his proclamation of January as National Stalking Awareness Month, the last year has seen remarkable efforts and marked progress in communities that are tackling this issue.  I’d like to take a moment to recognize some of the exceptional work that is taking place nationwide:

  • In Palm Beach County, Florida, victim service and criminal justice professionals formed an Anti-Stalking Multidisciplinary Collaborative. They received national and state training on stalking issues and developed an anti-stalking toolkit as a resource for all victim service professionals throughout Palm Beach County.
  • The Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence secured a grant to develop kits to help victims document stalking. The kits include logs, digital recorders, and other resources to assist victims in substantiating the stalking behaviors they experience.
  • The University of Iowa organized a group of stakeholders to enhance campus policies that address stalking, including the student code of conduct, anti-violence policies and anti-sexual harassment policies.
  • The Iowa Attorney General’s Crime Victim Assistance Division along with other agencies including the Law Enforcement Academy, Medical Examiner’s Office, Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and the Departments of Public Health and Public Safety teamed up to conduct a series of multi-disciplinary conferences on responding to victims of stalking.
  • The University of Kentucky Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History and OutrageUs launched “The Stalking Project,” a series of videos and other resources designed to educate and shine a spotlight on one of the nation’s most misunderstood areas of partner violence. The Stalking Project hopes to give voice to the often silent victims of stalking.
  • Florida and Arizona strengthened their stalking statutes by amending their laws to include any contacts or threats made by electronic communication.

OVW has played an active role in educating and raising awareness about the crime of stalking. We fund both formula and discretionary grant programs that address the crime of stalking. The OVW-supported National Center for Victims of Crime Stalking Resource Center has provided training to tens of thousands of victim service providers and criminal justice professionals throughout the United States on stalking dynamics, legal remedies, multidisciplinary efforts, practitioner-specific practices, and the use of technology to stalk. I encourage you to visit their Stalking Awareness Month website to learn more about stalking and what you can do to stop it.

During Stalking Awareness Month, please take a few minutes to learn more about programs and initiatives like the ones I list above. Spread the word about the dangers of stalking and let your friends, colleagues, social networks, campuses, and communities know that this is a serious issue with a direct correlation to violence and homicide. We need your help to raise the nation’s awareness and put stalking prevention, intervention, and prosecution front and center. We cannot prevent violence against women until we make ending stalking a priority.

Keeping Students Safe on Campus
October 9, 2012 Posted by

The following post appears courtesy of Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs, Mary Lou Leary

Last week, I was privileged to speak at the Clery Center for Security on Campus’s 25th anniversary gathering.  Founded by Connie Clery – who was moved to action by the brutal rape and murder of her daughter, Jeanne – the Clery Center has made a tremendous impact on campus culture by raising awareness of sexual assaults on campus to help make schools safer and provide support and resources for victims.

There was a time when we didn’t talk about campus violence.  We took for granted that our institutions of higher education were peaceful havens for learning.  Meanwhile, victims were often left without support or services. That changed significantly with the passage of the Clery Act in 1990. 

That landmark piece of legislation helped university officials understand the importance of disclosing crimes and security risks.  Thanks to the Clery Act – and to the education and awareness the Clery Center has provided over the years – colleges and universities now are much more focused on solving a problem than on admitting one exists.

But we’re far from meeting all our challenges – especially the problem of sexual assault.  Several studies sponsored by our National Institute of Justice indicate that between 14 and 30 percent of college students experience some type of sexual violence during their college careers. 

In one study, close to 12 percent of students reported being a victim of rape.  And current research suggests that as many as 85 to 90 percent of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone known to the victim.  Often, alcohol is involved.  Victims in these cases often feel they bear some responsibility for the rape, and fail to report it, fearing they’ll be poorly treated by the police or other parts of the system.  As long as this fear of reporting prevails, we have more to do.

Several years ago, our National Institute of Justice issued a report recommending schools have written response protocols to campus crime, provide prevention education to the general student population, and make sure adequate services are available for the victims.

More recently, our Bureau of Justice Assistance supported a review of campus crime prevention efforts with a national survey of universities on evidence-based crime prevention practices, and held focus groups to discuss where to target campus crime prevention efforts. 

The Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women has awarded $132 million to 360 institutions of higher education since 1999 to help schools develop standards and create programs to address violence against women on campus.  Information gathered from these and other efforts has helped produce useful tools, like a mobile app that provides students and parents access to campus crime statistics and resources on campus safety.  This is a terrific tool, given students’ historic lack of access to information about campus crime. 

Through OJP’s work and partnerships with organizations like the Clery Center, we have raised the profile of campus crime victims and made student safety a top priority of our system of higher education.  

Let’s continue to build on that momentum, working to put systems in place that protect students, help victims, and ensure that our colleges and universities are safe communities for learning and growth.

An Unwavering Commitment to End Violence Against Women
April 18, 2012 Posted by

At events in Washington, D.C. and New Orleans today, Attorney General Eric Holder, Deputy Attorney General James Cole, and Acting Director of the Office on Violence Against Women Bea Hanson called on Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which has drastically reduced instances of violence and provided support to victims and their families since first being enacted in 1994.

The landmark legislation expired in 2011 and is currently awaiting reauthorization in Congress.

Speaking at the White House event on the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), Attorney General Eric Holder said:

 Today, as Attorney General – and as the father of two teenage girls – this work remains both a personal and professional priority.  And for our nation’s Department of Justice, vigorously enforcing the provisions of the Violence Against Women’s Act is part of our solemn commitment to the citizens we are privileged to serve.  In many ways, fulfilling this commitment has never been more urgent.  Estimates show that more than 2 million adults – and more than 15 million children – are exposed to domestic violence every single year.

Deputy Attorney General James Cole also echoed the administration’s commitment to preventing domestic violence and reauthorizing the VAWA in his remarks at the 12th Annual International Family Justice Center Conference in New Orleans:

While the Department of Justice does a great deal in this area, it is committed to doing more to serve survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse and to prevent these terrible crimes from occurring in the first place.   That is why, led by the excellent work of the Office on Violence Against Women, we are working to support a coordinated community response to address the causes and consequences of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and child abuse.

The department’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) provides national leadership in developing the nation’s capacity to reduce violence against women through the implementation of the VAWA. Family Justice Centers are an example of a the type of program the OVW and the Violence Against Women Act support.  These centers give victims and their children access to trained advocates, police officers, prosecutors, judges and medical professionals – all in one location – so they don’t have to go from place to place to get the help they need and deserve. 

Bea Hanson, the Acting Director of the Office on Violence Against Women, spoke in New Orleans about how the Family Justice Center model has effectively worked throughout the country:

I saw firsthand how the co-location of so many partners – prosecutors, law enforcement, probation, victim compensation, and many services for victims – legal support, counseling, child care, case management, services for people with disabilities, services in multiple languages – all came together to provide wrap-around services for victims and their children.  The services to victims are unparalleled and the cooperation and collaboration between partners are core to fulfilling the idea of a community coordinated response to violence against women and children.

Much has been done in the years since the VAWA became law, but domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse are still too prevalent in our communities.

In America, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 13 men will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes.   Nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men have been raped at some time in their lives.   Each day, on average, three women die as a result of domestic violence. 

These crimes impact not only the immediate victims, but their families, neighbors, friends, and indeed their entire communities.  This is a problem that affects people of every background, ethnicity, age, ability or sexual orientation.  The Violence Against Women Act is a key tool in the fight against these crimes. The proposed VAWA legislation combines tough new penalties to both prosecute offenders and offer aid and support to victims.

While waiting on Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, the federal government continues to take steps (PDF) to stop the violence. At the White House today, President Barack Obama signed a presidential memorandum (PDF) that will require federal agencies to develop policies to address the effects of domestic violence and provide assistance to employees who are experiencing domestic violence.

The Department of Justice will continue to use every tool at our disposal to protect citizens and support victims of violence.

For more information about our work in this area visit the Office on Violence Against Women. We remind all those in need of assistance, or other concerned friends and individuals, to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE.

 

International Women’s Day – An Opportunity for Reflection and Inspiration
March 8, 2012 Posted by

The following post appears courtesy of Susan Carbon, Director of the Office on Violence Against Women.

Today, the world commemorates International Women’s Day 2012, a day to reflect on the changing female role in society and our momentous social, economic, and political achievements.  It is a day to give thanks for the women who have taught us, led us, and influenced us to live to our fullest potential.

Organizations around the world will focus on themes that reflect the local, national, and global gender issues relevant to their work and contexts.  The United Nations 2012 theme is Empower Rural Women – End Hunger and Poverty.

The Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), too, is focused on protecting and empowering women and girls in rural communities.  Our charge is to end abuse which can be – and often is – linked to issues of poverty and basic unmet needs like food and shelter.  Our Rural Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault, and Stalking Assistance Program is designed to enhance the safety of victims by supporting projects uniquely designed to address and prevent these crimes in rural jurisdictions.

As Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund said:

“Many rural women have limited autonomy and low status, which puts them at increased risk of hunger, gender-based violence and other human rights violations. Advancing rural women’s political, social and economic status are vital ends in themselves as well as critical strategies to eradicate poverty, promote women’s rights and pave the way for sustainable development.”

At OVW, we see this day as an opportunity to raise awareness about issues that disproportionately affect women, and to mobilize for meaningful change.  I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to review some sobering statistics that keep us focused on the need to ensure the safety of our sisters, mothers, and female friends:

  • One in every four women has experienced domestic violence during her lifetime.
  • Stalkers victimize approximately 2.53 million women each year in the U.S, with domestic violence-related stalking the most common type of stalking and the most dangerous.
  • Over one million women in the U.S. are raped every year.

These crimes are underreported and many victims suffer in silence.  International Women’s Day is, in part, about giving a voice and hope to these women and girls.  It is also about learning from survivors and the countless heroes who courageously lead in the face of resistance and hostility. Their stories guide our work for peace and equality.

And although the statistics tell us we have a ways to go before violence against women becomes a thing of the past, crime has declined steeply since 1993.  On International Women’s Day, a day of reflection, let us acknowledge the inspiring paradigm shift in how the issue of violence against women is addressed in the United States and the countless lives that have been positively impacted.  There have been significant improvements in the criminal and civil justice systems, and the annual incidence of domestic violence dropped by more than 50 percent in the last two decades.  Fewer people are being victimized by domestic violence, and when they are, they feel safer reporting the abuse to the police.

On March 8th, I’d like to suggest we all take a moment to celebrate our sisterhood, our pioneers, and our accomplishments.  We are united in a circle of support for women and girls all over the world – for their safety and success.  The women I work with and for daily inspire me to amplify this office’s efforts to create a violence-free life for women, their children, and families.

The Office on Violence Against Women is grateful for the work of individuals and organizations around the world that work every day to end violence against women and girls in all its forms. For more information about the Office on Violence Against Women, visit www.ovw.usdoj.gov. We remind all those in need of assistance, or concerned friends and individuals, to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE.

Love is Respect: February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month
February 14, 2012 Posted by

The following post appears courtesy of Susan B. Carbon, Director of the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW)

Regardless of the day or month, many teens – including college students – often find themselves in unhealthy, sometimes abusive relationships that affect their quality of life, cause pain and concern among their families and friends, and interfere with school and community activities.  Now is the time to learn about ways to recognize and prevent this violence.

During February, designated as Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, we join President Obama to call for a focused effort to break the cycle of violence by providing support and services to the victims, their families and their communities. As President Obama stated:

The consequences of dating violence — spanning impaired development to physical harm — pose a threat to the health and well-being of teens across our Nation, and it is essential we come together to break the cycle of violence that burdens too many of our sons and daughters.  This month, we recommit to providing critical support and services for victims of dating violence and empowering teens with the tools to cultivate healthy, respectful relationships.

Research indicates that teens and young women are especially vulnerable to experiencing violence in their relationships.   In one year, nearly one in ten high school students has been hit, slapped or physically hurt on purpose by a boyfriend or girlfriend.   And young people ages 18 and 19 experience the highest rates of stalking, which most often is committed by a current or former intimate partner for both male and female victims.  The prevalence of violence in the dating relationships of teens is simply unacceptable.

We know that to reach young people, we need to speak their language.  With that idea in mind, OVW is supporting outreach and education efforts by educators, advocates, and non-profits, including the That’s Not Cool.com, a national public education campaign that uses digital examples of controlling, pressuring, and threatening behavior to raise awareness about and prevent teen dating abuse.  OVW also funds the National Dating Abuse Helpline at 1-866-331-9474.  Teens can also text “loveis” to 77054 to reach an advocate or chat on line by clicking on the icon found on loveisrespect.org.

We must continue to advocate for the young people in our lives by providing safe spaces to have conversations about dating abuse and provide examples of healthy, violence-free relationships that include support, love and respect.  Only by continuing to engage in discussions on these challenging and difficult issues can we call attention to teen dating violence.  This is the first step towards preventing and ending the cycle of abuse. The resources listed in the President’s proclamation and in this blog are important resources that should be used, shared and discussed during February and throughout the year.   

For more information about the Office on Violence Against Women, visit www.ovw.usdoj.gov. We remind all those in need of assistance, or other concerned friends and individuals, to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE.

 
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