THE HONORABLE DEBORAH J. DANIELS
ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL
OFFICE OF JUSTICE PROGRAMS
2004 NATIONAL CRIME VICTIMS RIGHTS WEEK
THURSDAY, APRIL 22, 2004
Thank you, John. And thanks to you and your staff for the leadership you provide, and the diligent efforts in which you engage every day, to protect victims' rights and to promote American values.
I'm honored to have this opportunity to help pay tribute to those who work on behalf of crime victims, to honor survivors, and to remember the men, women, and children we have lost through criminal victimization. As John mentioned, this is the 24th commemoration of National Crime Victims Rights Week. For more than two decades, our nation has taken time each April to honor crime victims and victim advocates and to renew our national commitment to ensuring victims' rights.
This year, we also celebrate the 20th anniversary of the passage of the Victims of Crime Act of 1984. That landmark legislation has inspired the passage of thousands of similar laws in legislatures throughout the country to protect victim rights. It has authorized the federal leadership provided by our Office for Victims of Crime. And through the grant programs it created, it has provided more than $5 billion to support victim compensation programs in every state and thousands of victim assistance programs all across America.
This afternoon we celebrate these achievements and recognize some of those who are responsible for the remarkable progress our nation has made in the past two decades to bring help, hope, and healing to crime victims and their families.
Those selected to receive National Crime Victim Awards this year reflect our nation's progress and embody the values on which this country was founded: courage, strength, perseverance in the face of overwhelming obstacles, and dedicated, selfless service to others. These individuals are committed to supporting victims of crime and their families. And our nation is strengthened by their courage and dedication.
This afternoon, you will hear their personal stories. These stories tell us of pain, and suffering, and injustice, but also of heroism, healing, and inspiring journeys toward justice. Their voices - and the voices of victims and their families from throughout our nation - inspire all of us to reach higher, to dig deeper, and to work even harder to ensure that our criminal justice system truly reflects America's values and protects victims' rights.
As a former United States Attorney in Indianapolis, and before that as a local prosecutor, I've seen first-hand how victims are devastated - physically, emotionally, and financially - as a result of the crimes committed against them. And I've seen, far too often, how they are re-victimized by the very system that is supposed to ensure justice for victims.
But I've also seen what a tremendous difference a dedicated victim advocate can make in comforting the family of a homicide victim. I've seen the tremendous difference a rape crisis counselor can make in helping a sexual assault victim and giving her a safe place in which to heal.
I've seen how even one person can make a tremendous difference by working for legislative change to protect the rights of crime victims. And I've seen what a significant contribution the work of federal prosecutors and their staffs have made in ensuring that fines and restitution are collected from criminals and used to compensate and provide assistance to crime victims throughout the country.
I've also seen the power of strong leadership in making sure that victims' rights and America's values are reflected in our criminal justice system and echoed in the halls of government - at all levels.
From the day he took office, Attorney General John Ashcroft has worked to champion the rights of crime victims and ensure that all of us at the Department of Justice remember why we are here: to protect the American people; to hold accountable all those who threaten the safety and security of our homeland, as well as our hometowns; and to uphold the commitment to freedom, equality, justice, and individual rights enshrined in our nation's Constitution.
But the Attorney General's dedication to victims began long before he came to the Department of Justice. As a United States Senator, he co-sponsored the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, providing new rights and services for domestic violence victims. He fought to toughen the penalties for gun crimes by substantially increasing mandatory minimum prison sentences for the criminal misuse of firearms.
As Governor of Missouri, he worked to enhance services for crime victims and to ensure that the laws of the "Show Me" state fully protected victims' rights.
As United States Attorney General, and our nation's chief law enforcement officer, John Ashcroft has shifted the focus of the Justice Department to one of preventing crime, rather than merely reacting after the harm has already been done - demanding that our prosecutors and law enforcement agencies work, not just to redress crime after the fact, but also to prevent terrorists and other criminals from victimizing our citizens in the first instance.
Because of his efforts, we know that countless Americans have been saved from the anguish of victimization and that all our communities are safer.
And the Attorney General continues working to protect our nation from the evil of terrorism, by insisting on the improvement of our government's ability to anticipate and thwart potential terrorist acts, and to identify and incapacitate those who would do us harm.
We are greatly honored that he is here today to join in recognizing all those whose efforts advance the rights of crime victims and defend America's values. Please welcome the Attorney General of the United States of America, John Ashcroft.