Marking the 17th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) helps us both appreciate the great strides that have been made in addressing all types of violence against women and recognize the fact that more needs to be done to create a society free from domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking. The Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) remains committed to addressing these crimes in a broad and comprehensive manner.
The concept of a coordinated community response is one of the most critical and visible achievements of VAWA. In the years since VAWA’s enactment by Congress in 1994, we have witnessed a sea-change in the ways that communities respond to domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and dating violence. VAWA encourages communities to bring together stakeholders from diverse backgrounds to share information and to use their distinct roles to improve our responses to and prevention of violence against women. These groups include, but are not limited to: victim advocates, police officers, prosecutors, judges, probation and corrections officials, health care professionals, leaders within faith communities, and survivors of violence. New programs and amendments have strengthened the law and enhanced our work.
We continue to be grateful to this administration and its role in bringing greater attention to and awareness of these crimes. The ongoing support of the President and Vice President inspires and encourages us in our day-to-day work. In his Proclamation marking the 15th Anniversary of VAWA, President Obama described some accomplishments and important tasks ahead. His words continue to strengthen our resolve:
…Communities recognize the special needs of victims and appreciate the benefits of collaboration among professionals in the civil and criminal justice system, victim advocates, and other service providers. With the support of VAWA funds, dedicated units of law enforcement officers and specialized prosecutors have grown more numerous than ever before. Most importantly, victims are more likely to have a place to turn for help — for emergency shelter and crisis services, and also for legal assistance, transitional housing, and services for their children.
Despite this great progress, our Nation’s work remains unfinished. More families and communities must recognize that the safety of our children relates directly to the safety of our mothers. Access to sexual assault services, especially in rural America, must be increased. American Indian and Alaska Native women experience the highest rates of violence, and we must make it a priority to address this urgent problem. We must also work with diverse communities to make sure the response to violence is relevant and culturally appropriate. We must prevent the homicide of women and girls who have suffered from domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.
Far too many women in our communities and neighborhoods, and across the world, continue to suffer from violence. Inspired by the promise and achievement of the Violence Against Women Act, our Nation stands united in its determination to end these crimes and help those in need.
We invite everyone to add his or her voice to putting an end to violence against women. Specific opportunities are available in many communities during the four observance months: October (Domestic Violence Month), January (Stalking Awareness Month), February (Teen Dating Violence Month) and April (Sexual Assault Awareness Month). For more information about OVW or these awareness months, please 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.
Susan B. Carbon is the Director of the Office on Violence Against Women