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Remarks of Mary Lou Leary, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs

National Conference on Victim Assistance
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
New Orleans, LA

       Thank you, Jeff [Dion].

        It's great to be here today with all of you. For me, this is always a welcome event - it's a sort of family reunion with the added bonus of networking and educational opportunities. From my early days as a prosecutor to my years as the Director of the National Center, victim issues have always been a poignant - and human - reminder of why criminal justice matters.

       In my current position, I have the opportunity to apply the perspective I gained at the National Center to make sure that the Department of Justice always remembers - and responds to - crime victims. There is a tendency to think of the criminal justice process as being all about the defendant's rights. But I've made it my business to remind folks that it's about justice for victims as well.

       And, I am lucky to have the full support of Attorney General Eric Holder and Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson. Not to mention the expertise and hard work of the Office for Victims of Crime. Acting Director Joye Frost and her entire staff are tireless advocates. So, I'd like to thank them - and the National Center - for their work.

        One of my first positions following law school was as an Assistant District Attorney in Massachusetts. Crime victims quickly became more than the anonymous bodies and injured individuals reported on the nightly news. I met victims and their families. I saw their struggles; I heard their stories, and I learned about their strengths.

       We were fortunate to have a victim advocate working directly in our office - an extremely rare occurrence in the 1980s. I learned from our advocate that the most important thing to victims is to be treated with dignity and respect throughout the criminal justice process. In fact - and this was a surprise to me as a young prosecutor - this sense of dignity can be more important than the actual outcome of the case.

        Yesterday, many of you had the pleasure of hearing from Attorney General Eric Holder, and his remarks reiterated what his actions have proven: this Justice Department is deeply dedicated to serving victims - including victims of hate crimes - and the professionals who help them.

       Hate crimes are as troubling for their motivation as they are for their brutality. These crimes are based on irrational loathing for a person or group because of race, sex, nationality, religion, ethnicity, age, or sexual orientation. I will never forget the words of Matthew Shepard's mother, Judy, as she described the anguish she suffered when her son was tortured and murdered. "Hate starts with fear and ignorance of things you don't understand. When I would think of Matt the image that came to my mind was Matt alone and tied to a fence in the wilderness. This isn't a gay thing. It's a HATE thing." She was so right.

        Morris Dees, who has selflessly dedicated his life to fighting some of the world's most powerful hate organizations - including the Ku Klux Klan - will undoubtedly have a lot more to say about how we deliver on the promise of our Pledge of Allegiance to be one nation with justice for all. So, I'd like to take my time to talk a bit more about what the Department of Justice, specifically, is doing in this area.

        With the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in February 2010, the Justice Department received a new and powerful tool against those who commit hate crimes. Under the new statute, the Department is pursuing new investigations and training attorneys and law enforcement officers on enforcement. Even before the passage of this Act, the criminal section was vigorously pursuing hate criminals under existing statutes. This new authority will only enhance our pursuit of criminals motivated by hate.

       To support this new initiative, President Obama's 2011 budget requests $6 million. Much of this funding would be provided by the Office of Justice Programs to state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies to support efforts to investigate and prosecute hate crimes.

       In the meantime, OVC is working to ensure that services are available for victims of hate crime. One of many examples of the real results of OVC's work comes to us from Arizona, where federal funding supports a victim/witness coordinator position in the Arizona U.S. Attorney's Office.

       Many of the cases this coordinator works on are hate crimes. Recently, she has been working closely with the victim of a vicious attack by members of the White Aryan Resistance movement. The victim, an African American male, worked in the City of Scottsdale's Office of Diversity and Dialogue. One day at work he opened a package addressed to him; in that one moment his life was changed forever. The package exploded in his hands, causing severe injuries to his hand, arm and fingers. His assistant, who was standing nearby, suffered shrapnel wounds to her eyes. He had been targeted by members of the Aryan Resistance not only because of his place of business but also because of the color of his skin.

       The defendants were charged in federal court with multiple counts of conspiracy. As this case moves through the criminal justice system, the victim/witness coordinator is helping the victims understand their rights and the entire judicial process. She has accompanied them to courtroom hearings and provided regular case updates. Having a knowledgeable, reliable advocate has made the painful process of recovery and prosecution just a little easier for these victims.

       At OJP, we have learned that one of the most effective ways to help victims of hate crimes is by training the professionals who serve them. Under the Recovery Act, OVC provided funding to a national education, advocacy, and support organization for transsexual and transgender individuals called FORGE, which means For Ourselves: Reworking Gender Expression.

       FORGE is developing training and technical assistance and establishing demonstration sites to help transgender sexual assault survivors, who often refuse traditional services. The rate of sexual violence in the transgender community is estimated at more than 50 percent. These tools will help providers nationwide better understand and serve this community.

       Finally, right here in New Orleans, OVC is providing support for direct assistance to victims, including victims of hate crimes. OVC's efforts are part of the Department's comprehensive commitment to helping New Orleans recover from the dual tragedies it has suffered.

       OVC's funding supports two new positions in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana. These victim assistance positions are focused on outreach and public awareness and have helped to foster real, enduring success. Significantly, their work began with a listening session, during which they heard the concerns of local victims and responded.

       As of January 2010, their collaborative efforts with local law enforcement and victim service providers have assisted 1,720 local victims of crimes ranging from homicide to domestic violence. Applications for compensation went from 120 in 2007 to 273 in 2009. And, between January and December of last year, the number of victims registered in the state notification system increased by nearly 600 percent.

        With the Matthew Shepard legislation and the ongoing efforts of prosecutors, law enforcement, and victim service providers, there is not just hope that we can decrease the incidence of hate crimes - but real, verifiable proof that we can, someday provide justice for all.

       As victim service providers and allied professionals, you are essential to these efforts. The senseless vitriol of those who commit hate crimes is - I assure you - no match for your passion for serving crime victims. Thank you.

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