Regina B. Schofield, Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs
National Organization for Victims Assistance Annual Forum
April 21, 2006
Thank you. It's a pleasure to be part of this forum.
I'd like to acknowledge Michele Cole, Executive Director of Safe Shores, the DC Children's Advocacy Center. Safe Shores is just a few blocks from here, and within sight of our nation's capitol. They serve not only the children of the District of Columbia, but children visiting our capital as well.
I want to thank NOVA for having me here, and for the great work it has done and continues to do on behalf of crime victims across the country.
I'd also like to thank Congressman [Ted] Poe for his leadership, particularly through the Victims' Rights Caucus. You'll hear from him a little later. I appreciate his efforts to make sure that the voices of victims are heard in the halls and chambers of our nation's capitol.
I'd also like to acknowledge John Gillis, the Director of our Office for Victims of Crime, whom you heard from earlier. John's done important work at OVC to see that the needs and concerns of victims inform the programs administered by his office. I want to thank him for his leadership.
It's a privilege for me to speak to this audience of victim advocates. Thanks to you, the needs and rights of victims have been integrated into the administration of justice in courts throughout the land.
After all these years, crime victims are finally being accorded the status they deserve – not as mere bystanders to the justice process, but as key players in that process. The system's still not perfect, but it's come a long way in the 25 years since the first NOVA forum. You should be very proud of what you've accomplished.
At my confirmation, I made it known that reaching out to victims and expanding victim services would be among my top priorities.
Through our Office for Victims of Crime, OJP has had a long history of its own of supporting and improving victim services.
We've helped to fund thousands of local victim assistance programs, as well as compensation programs in every state. We've helped to train countless victim service, criminal justice, and allied professionals. And we've been on the cutting edge of trends in victim services.
Perhaps the most important trend has been in bringing victims to the table as we address the full range of criminal justice issues. And let me assure you that this is not a symbolic exercise. It's part of a strategy that recognizes the unique value of the victim's perspective in shaping criminal justice policy.
One of our best examples of involving victims is President Bush's DNA Initiative. Under the initiative, the President has committed $1 billion over five years to enhancing the use of DNA technology. Our National Institute of Justice is the primary player in this effort.
Right now, more than half-a-million cases involving crime scene samples either have yet to be sent to labs to be analyzed. Or they are at labs, but still awaiting analysis. About 52,000 are homicide cases. Some 170,000 are rape cases. These are serious crimes that, in many cases, have gone unsolved for years. And victims, and victims' families, have been waiting for answers all that time. Talk about cruel and unusual.
We've awarded more than $200 million to states and localities to expand the application of forensic science through DNA. These funds have gone toward eliminating case backlogs. They've also gone toward lab enhancements, research and development, finding missing persons, and helping to solve cold cases. In fact, we just held our first regional cold case training in Kansas City, Missouri.
Recently, one of our DNA grants helped investigators in Oregon identify a suspect in a 26-year-old double homicide case. The suspect was arrested just two weeks ago.
DNA also was the linchpin in the case against a California man accused of raping and murdering a 19-year-old woman in 1974. Thanks to DNA evidence, prosecutors were able to win a conviction 30 years after the crime was committed.
DNA makes it possible for a victim to have answers long after the crime has been committed. As everyone in this room knows, time does not heal all wounds. But the information that DNA can provide will give victims at least a measure of satisfaction and faith in the system.
Victims will be primary beneficiaries of the President's initiative, and they are also central to its design.
An important offshoot of the initiative is our national strategy to identify missing persons. Through this effort, the Department of Justice is looking at ways to improve our ability to find missing persons.
Currently, the FBI has a database of more than 100,000 missing persons cases. The problem is that no single system exists for matching those cases with cases in databases that contain DNA. So investigators are unable to make important connections that will solve them.
The tragic consequences can be huge, as we've witnessed in the efforts to identify victims of Hurricane Katrina and the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center .
Our national task force on missing persons has been meeting to discuss ways to improve our handling of missing persons cases. In May, we'll release a report summing up task force activities. The report will discuss our progress in enhancing the use of and access to federal databases. It will discuss efforts to improve missing persons investigations. It will talk about ways to standardize DNA collection kits. And it will mention our ongoing outreach activities to raise awareness of the issues.
Missing children, specifically abducted children, are the focus of another of our important efforts – AMBER Alert. As the National AMBER Alert Coordinator, I have leveraged OJP's resources to strengthen the network of AMBER Alert systems throughout the country. All 50 states now have AMBER Alert plans. Many regions and local jurisdictions do as well.
The AMBER network was originally made up of law enforcement agencies, broadcasters, and transportation departments. But our partnerships have expanded. In particular, we've been successful in involving the private sector.
The Wireless AMBER Alerts Initiative is a prime example of our work with private partners. Through this effort, wireless subscribers are able to register to receive AMBER Alert messages directly through text messages on their cell phones and PDAs. It's a free program, it's easy to register for, and it enables authorities to enlist citizens directly in their search for abductors.
Through the wireless initiative, we have the potential to reach 190 million wireless customers. I want to thank NOVA for including the AMBER Wireless icon on its Web site. By clicking on the icon, you will find instructions for registering. I encourage all of you here to do so.
Thanks to efforts like the wireless initiative, and to greater collaboration and greater awareness, AMBER Alert has helped to recover more than 250 abducted children in the 10 years of its existence. Eighty seven percent of those recoveries have been made since President Bush called for national coordination three-and-a-half years ago.
Our success with AMBER has led us to expand into new territory. In January, we held the first training for Child Abduction Response Teams, or CARTs.
The CART concept came about as a result of the abduction and murder of Carlie Brucia in Sarasota, Florida two years ago. That case prompted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to organize a team of experts to help law enforcement officers investigate abductions.
CARTs complement AMBER Alert systems by providing a mechanism for responding to missing children's cases, even those that don't meet the criteria for an AMBER Alert. We all know that a child can be in serious danger even if there's no evidence of an abduction. CARTs will ensure a rapid response to all children who disappear and are believed to be at risk.
The January training, which was held in San Diego , was the first of what will be ten regional CART trainings that we will hold this year. Our goal is to create a CART in each of those regions.
AMBER Alert and our CART program are part of an overall OJP effort to protect children and to respond to child victims. But shielding children from harm and exploitation involves more than keeping them out of physical proximity to criminals. It also involves monitoring what goes on in the home, specifically with computers and the Internet.
Under a new initiative called Project Safe Childhood, Attorney General Gonzales has directed a coordinated Justice Department response to the exploitation of children through the Internet. OJP's own Internet Crimes Against Children, or ICAC, Task Force Program is a central part of that effort.
By supporting 45 task forces across the country, the ICAC program is helping federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to develop effective responses to cybercrime.
ICAC task force efforts were instrumental in uncovering an international child pornography ring last month. Investigators in that case found that thousands of images, including streaming videos of live molestations, had been traded among individuals in the United States , Canada , Australia , and Great Britain . Twenty seven defendants have been charged.
The case demonstrated one of the great challenges of fighting Internet-facilitated crime, namely, the need for close coordination across not only state, but international borders. But as it also shows, we have the means to combat these insidious crimes.
Another category of brutal crimes involves the crossing of borders, and that is human trafficking.
Every year, between 600,000 and 800,000 people are transported across international borders to be systematically abused, sexually exploited, and brutalized. As many as 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States, where they are forced into prostitution, sweatshops, and domestic servitude. Most of these victims are women and children. Half are under the age of 18.
President Bush and Attorney General Gonzales are leading a coordinated attack against traffickers, and the Office of Justice Programs is playing a pivotal role. Our Office for Victims of Crime and our Bureau of Justice Assistance have supported 32 anti-trafficking task forces. These task forces are working to help law enforcement shut down trafficking operations, and they're bringing much needed services to victims.
For example, Project Reach in Boston provides mobile mental health assessment and crisis intervention services. Project Reach and another grantee, the YMCA of Houston, collaborated to provide emergency mental health services to more than 80 victims in a recent trafficking case. These programs and others are providing critical services to victims in their moments of greatest need.
President Bush called human trafficking an offense against human dignity and “an affront to the defining promise of our country.” His words describe not just trafficking crimes but all crimes.
National Crime Victims' Rights Week reminds us that we have a special responsibility to victims of crime. Each and every one of you understands the magnitude of that responsibility and has acted faithfully to fulfill it.
As the President once said about victim advocates and service providers, quote: “Your lives, the example you set, stand out as models of compassion and integrity.”
On behalf of OJP, I thank you for your example and for all you do on behalf of victims.