Regina B. Schofield, Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs
National Organization for Victim Assistance Annual Forum
April 20, 2007
Thank you, Meri [NOVA Board member Meredith “Meri” Barrioz]. It’s a pleasure to be part of this forum.
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’m glad to have a chance to speak to this audience of victim advocates – and in this setting. At the Office of Justice Programs, we believe that we have a special responsibility to our nation’s tribal communities and to American Indian crime victims.
I take that responsibility seriously because I know the challenges that tribal officials face in keeping their communities safe and serving those in need. We know the high rates of victimization among American Indians and Alaska Natives – two-and-a-half times the national average.
We also know that tribes often lack the necessary resources for fighting crime. Our National Institute of Justice supported a study a few years ago that showed that a typical police department in Indian country serves a population of 10,000 people living in an area about the size of Delaware. Yet, on average, tribal communities are patrolled by no more than three officers.
These are serious obstacles to public safety.
Shortly after I was appointed Assistant Attorney General almost two years ago, I established a Justice Programs Council on Native American Affairs. The purpose of this council is to coordinate OJP’s and the Justice Department’s efforts on behalf of tribes.
I also brought over one of my colleagues from my days at the Department of Health and Human Services, Gena Tyner-Dawson. Gena is a member of the Sac and Fox Nation, and she was my senior advisor for tribal affairs at HHS. She was instrumental in putting in place a series of tribal consultations that allowed tribes to have direct input into the Department’s policies.
Through the Justice Programs Council and with Gena’s guidance, we are making a concerted effort to meet the needs of crime victims in Indian country.
One of the most pressing needs is serving children who are endangered by drugs, particularly by methamphetamine.
We’ve heard from many tribal leaders, and from the National Congress of American Indians, how the destruction caused by meth threatens to dwarf the problems associated with alcohol and other substances.
To illustrate the magnitude of the problem, a study in California found that, of the thousands of cases handled by the California Indian Legal Services, almost every case in which a child has been taken from the home involves at least one parent who uses meth.
Many of you have heard about or even seen first-hand the devastation and degradation caused by meth: Parents cooking meth instead of cooking dinner, exposing their children to highly toxic chemicals. Parents going on binges lasting several days, leaving their children entirely neglected. And mothers giving birth to babies who are meth addicts when they draw their first breath.
Geography, complicated jurisdictional maps, and thinly stretched resources make tribal communities attractive targets for meth traffickers. And, indeed, traffickers and distributors are gaining a foothold in many of those communities.
The Justice Department is part of an Administration-wide effort to curb meth use, and we are making a concerted effort to fight meth in Indian country. Attorney General Gonzales has met with tribes to discuss the problems surrounding meth. And the Department is supporting meth training for tribal law enforcement.
As I mentioned, a major concern of ours is the impact of meth on children. One of our important efforts is an initiative funded by our Office for Victims of Crime to develop a National Drug Endangered Children Resource Center.
The resource center is now in operation, providing critical information to tribes, states, federal agencies, and local communities on how to help children hurt by drugs, including meth. We hope that the center will be an invaluable tool for communities as they strive to protect those who are the most vulnerable to meth abuse.
Protecting American Indian children is at the center of our efforts under AMBER Alert. In its 11 years of existence, AMBER is responsible for recovering 329 abducted children. More than 90 percent of those recoveries have occurred since President Bush called for national coordination of AMBER programs four-and-a-half years ago.
As the National AMBER Alert Coordinator, I have been working with tribal representatives and a national working group to involve tribes more closely in our AMBER efforts. We have held several meetings to identify ways to improve coordination with tribes, and last summer we held a national AMBER Alert conference, where we devoted two days to discussing AMBER in Indian country.
AMBER relies on a strong communications infrastructure, and OJP is working to help develop that infrastructure in tribal communities. We have set aside funds to help to support the activation of tribal AMBER plans. We hope that this effort will help bridge the gap between tribes and state and regional programs across the country.
We’ve seen some AMBER successes with Native American children. In October 2005, two 13-year-old girls in Bismarck, North Dakota got into a car with two men at a shopping mall. Apparently, the meeting had been arranged through online chats. Once law enforcement officials learned about the Internet exchanges, they issued an AMBER Alert.
An employee at a local motel saw the alert on television and notified authorities that they were staying there. Shortly thereafter, the suspects were arrested and the girls were safely recovered.
AMBER touches many areas of child safety. The Bismarck case highlights an issue that we’re working hard to address – the online exploitation of children.
More and more young Internet users are exposed to unwanted sexual material on the Web. One child in every seven receives a sexual solicitation or approach online. And most child pornographers have images of prepubescent children and of graphic depictions of sexual activity. Most disturbing of all, one in five has images of sexual violence to children.
OJP is playing a central role under the Attorney General’s initiative, Project Safe Childhood. As many of you know, Project Safe Childhood is aimed at preventing online child exploitation and arresting its perpetrators.
It has two basic components: First, it is designed to help families take precautions against online predators. It includes a program to raise awareness of the threat of cyber-enticement, and provides tools and information to parents and kids to help them report possible violations.
Its second component centers on investigation and enforcement. Our Internet Crimes Against Children, or ICAC, Task Force Program is the heart of this effort.
Right now, we support 46 ICAC task forces throughout the country. These task forces have played a critical role in stopping Internet criminal activity targeting children.
As part of the Administration’s effort to address this problem, President Bush recently appointed Laura Rogers the first head of the new Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking Office. The acronym is a little easier: The SMART Office. The purpose of the SMART Office will be to administer the provisions of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, which President Bush signed into law last July.
The Adam Walsh Act gives statutory authority to Project Safe Childhood and enhances our ability to monitor sex offenders. Among its many responsibilities, the SMART Office will administer new standards for sex offender registration and notification. It also will administer any grant programs relating to sex offender registration and notification. And it will provide technical assistance to states and local communities on sex offender registration and on efforts to protect citizens from sexual abuse and exploitation.
We are working on many other fronts to protect children and serve victims.
Our National Institute of Justice continues to administer the President’s DNA Initiative. We’re making major strides under this effort in solving missing persons and cold cases through new forensic tools and techniques. OVC is involved in the initiative as well.
We continue to support anti-trafficking task forces in communities across the country. Those teams are aggressively investigating and prosecuting human trafficking operations and providing services to victims.
We’re directing our resources at preventing and responding to identity theft. Victims of identity theft can suffer crippling emotional trauma, not to mention financial losses and other setbacks. Our Identity Theft Initiative is helping the public to see that it is far from a victimless crime.
And, of course, through OVC we continue to support thousands of victim service programs across the country and victim compensation programs in every state.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the enactment of the first federal victims’ rights law, the Victim and Witness Protection Act. We’ve come a long way in those 25 years. On the federal level alone, basic rights such as allocution and restitution have been codified into law. Written guidelines issued by the Attorney General make clear our responsibilities to victims and witnesses. And the Justice Department now has a victim ombudsman to hold Department personnel accountable for their treatment of victims.
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. As the advocates who have helped to effect that change, you should be very proud of what you’ve accomplished.
On behalf of the Office of Justice Programs, I thank you for your work and for your commitment, and I wish you well as you continue to serve victims.