Remarks of Laurie Robinson, Acting Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs
National Center for Victims of Crime Conference
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Thanks, Mark. I’m so pleased to be here.
I also have to admit to feeling a little sheepish. NCVC is currently without a permanent director, and I’m afraid we had something to do with that. I’m very sorry to have taken Mary Lou away, but please believe me when I say that we really need her at OJP.
My friendship with Mary Lou goes back quite a few years, and it grew out of our shared concern for victims’ rights. I came from the policy side. I helped to set up the American Bar Association’s Committee on Crime Victims back in the day, and I spent a large part of my career pushing for crime victim legislation, especially back in the 80s. Mary Lou brought her experience from the prosecution side, and we quickly discovered that the thing we had most in common was our passion for victims’ issues.
So we have a great partnership, and we agree that the rights and needs of crime victims strongly deserve the Justice Department’s focus and attention.
We’re fortunate, too, in that we have an Attorney General who shares that view. As U.S. Attorney in D.C., Eric Holder made victim-witness assistance central to his office’s functions. He made sure that each of his prosecution units had someone dedicated to working with victims, and he carried that commitment to the Department as Deputy Attorney General under Janet Reno.
His signature initiative was his Children Exposed to Violence Initiative. He had seen as a prosecutor how violence affected kids, and he wanted to make sure that children who lived in violent settings – or who witnessed violence – were treated as victims and given appropriate services.
He remains solid in his commitment to child victims, and to other underserved victims. The Attorney General met with the employees of OJP not long after taking office – in fact, OJP was the first DOJ component that the Attorney General visited. He made it clear that one of his top priorities was to ensure that victim services be available to underserved populations, particularly those victims in the inner city who were at high risk. He made the comment that people here in D.C. should be able to sit on their own front porches without fear of dodging a bullet.
And it isn’t just child victims or inner city victims. He believes – and Mary Lou and I also believe – that all victims of all crimes should be treated well. That means, certainly, victims of violent crime. But it also means victims of property crime, identity theft, mortgage fraud. We know that the emotional and financial toll that these crimes take can be devastating. And we believe that these victims should have access to services just as victims of violent crimes do.
I’m preaching to the choir, but I feel it’s important that you know that our commitment runs to the highest levels of the Department.
When I came to OJP in January, for what I thought would be a short stay, I articulated 10 goals for OJP. I don’t have time to list them all, but I did want to mention a couple.
One of my goals is to restore the leadership and integrity of OJP. I had followed what was happening in OJP during the last several years, and I have to say, I was very frustrated and saddened by what I saw happening to the agency. Morale was low, funding was a mess, and it seemed to me that OJP was being sort of shunted aside. And a huge symptom of that was that OJP had lost its connection to the field. And this wasn’t just my observation. I heard this from many of our stakeholders – victim advocates included.
So I determined – and this is the other goal I wanted to mention – to re-engage OJP in a lively and active dialogue and partnership with groups in the field. You’ve spent a lot of time during the last few years being told things. I think we need to spend more time listening – hearing from you about your issues and concerns and what we can do better.
Joye Frost – OVC’s Acting Director, whom you heard from yesterday – and Mary Lou and I have discussed how we can do that. I’ve already held three listening sessions, where we included victims’ groups, but Joye, Mary Lou, and I want to go further. We want to get a pulse of the victims’ field – find out what the issues and challenges are, how certain things like technology have changed the nature of crime, and how we should adjust our response.
Where do we need to go? That’s what I want to know, and I hope that’s what you’ll discuss while you are here. Meetings such as these are excellent opportunities to talk frankly about new ideas as well as about what is working well and what could work better. And even about what isn’t working at all and should be replaced with a different or new approach. Of course, we have to go further than just talking and conduct research so we can develop practices that have a solid base.
For example, I believe that we need a field-wide dialogue about how to respond effectively to victims with disabilities. We need to know how we can better assist this vulnerable population. So I’m very pleased that OVC is working with NCVC and the Joint Center for Violence and Victim Studies to hold a National Conference on Responding to Crime Victims with Disabilities. That will be September 30th through October 2nd in Denver, and registration is still open. . . so sign up.
Before I close, I just want to thank NCVC for its partnership with OJP and the Department. I can honestly say that, without NCVC’s guidance and counsel, there would be something terribly lacking in our response to victims. Programs like VictimLaw, which OJP is very proud to support, have been a boon to the victims’ rights and criminal justice fields. And I understand the database has received some 27,000 total hits, with almost 16,000 unique users. That’s great, and it’s a testament to how important that information is to the field.
We all know that while technology has its place, nothing can replace each of you! Whether you are victim advocates, mental health providers, researchers, prosecutors, law enforcement and corrections officers, policymakers, or others who work with and care about victims, your work is important to the victims you serve and to us in the Department. We want you to know that we are on your side and working to support you every day.