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

OVC Discretionary Grantees Meeting

November 16, 2010
Washington, DC

       Good morning. And, thank you, Joye [Frost]. Your passion for victims' rights is reflected throughout your staff and in everything OVC does. So, let me begin by thanking you and your staff for your tireless dedication and hard work. Victims and victim service providers have a powerful voice in the Justice Department - OVC is that voice.

       One of my jobs in my current role is to make sure that voice is always heard - a job made easier by our leadership. Attorney General Eric Holder and the Office of Justice Programs' Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson have made partnering with the field - with state, local, and tribal stakeholders - a priority.

       Of course, we can't be in your demonstration sites. But we can help you. We can provide fundamental information on developments in the field. We can offer training to hone your skills. And, we can help you administer your grants so they provide the best services to the most people, while ensuring that decision makers get the information they need on program effectiveness.

       In this Department of Justice, our commitment to partnerships is matched by our dedication to "smart on crime" approaches to criminal and juvenile justice - approaches that are rooted in careful study, thorough evaluation, and solid science. In fact, these two goals are closely connected in everything we do. The victim services field is certainly one area in which "smart" approaches have significant practical applications.

       Throughout my career - first as a prosecutor and later as the leader of the National Center for Victims of Crime - I've had the pleasure of working directly with victim-witness coordinators and victim service providers at every level. I have a deep personal connection to what you do and immense respect for your resilience and dedication.

       I know that victim services are intensely personal for you and for the people you serve. And, I know that "evidence-based" approaches can sound remote, academic, and impersonal. Perhaps, at first glance, these two may appear to be worlds apart.

       Let me elaborate. Victim services is about helping and healing; it is about personal touches and emotional triumphs. Research and science are cold and precise - focused only on measurement and outcomes - numbers, not people. Do these arguments sound familiar?

       Today, we challenge you to disavow the view that these two approaches are incompatible, and to become leaders in our efforts to integrate evidence in the victim services field. We need your help because this imagined incongruity is not only erroneous, it is also destructive. It has the real potential to hinder your work.

       We cannot keep doing the same things without testing and evaluating them. There are too many victims who are not being served by our current system, and too many others who are not being served sufficiently. And, in today's ever-tightening fiscal environment, we truly can't afford to invest in programs that don't show results. Measurement and evaluation are more critical now than ever before.

       By generating and using research and evidence, we can better understand how to apply limited funding and manpower resources to best serve the most victims. That's a goal that everyone can get behind. But how do we do it?

       Of course, it isn't nearly as simple as it sounds - as I'm sure all of you know. Most people want their decisions to be based on evidence. Few would openly say that they'd rather just follow their gut and see what happens. But too many of you on the frontlines don't see the integration of evidence as directly connected to what you do every day. The key - for us at the federal level - is to create a clear definition of "evidence" and to help you determine what approaches are right for you. That's what we're trying to do through the Evidence Integration Initiative that we launched at the Office of Justice Programs last year.

       E2I, as we call it, has three goals:

  • First, to improve the quantity and quality of evidence that we generate through our research, evaluation, and statistical functions.
  • Second, to better integrate evidence in program and policy decisions.
  • And third, to improve the translation of evidence into practice.

       In just a few minutes, I'll have the pleasure of introducing Dr. Phelan Wyrick, a senior policy advisor in our office. Phelan is leading our E2I effort, and he'll have more to say about the exciting things we are already doing, what we have planned for the future, and how this initiative can help you.

       Phelan will cover the details, so I'd like to spend my last few minutes talking about why - and how - evidence matters for victim service providers. I think there are several opportunities for these two seemingly disparate areas to come together and realize powerful results.

       First, some recent research shows real opportunities to better serve the underserved. For instance, our Bureau of Justice Statistics' report on identity theft showed that 7.9 million households had at least one member who had been a victim of one or more types of identity theft in 2007. That's more than 6 percent of all households, and a significant increase from the 2005 numbers.

       Likewise, a January 2009 report by BJS on stalking victimization in the U.S. showed that approximately 14 out of every 1,000 persons age 18 or older were victims of stalking during a 12-month period. It provided a snapshot of how stalking impacts victims - leading to fear, missed work, and much worse. It also offered comprehensive information about the incidence of cyberstalking.

       So, what does the research tell us? While crime rates overall are declining, certain crimes are still widespread. And, we know that when it comes to victims, statistics often underestimate impacts, since many people, including those who are institutionalized, are not counted. We also know that, often, we are least prepared to serve these very victims. Taken in context, these data can help people in the field determine how to most effectively allocate resources - but only if you know about them.

       Second, we have evidence that demonstrates that some tools used to help victims work - tools that are already available. Our National Institute of Justice completed a study last year that showed that civil protective orders can help combat domestic violence, or intimate partner violence.

       For example, after carefully reviewing the use of civil protective orders in five Kentucky jurisdictions, researchers found that half of the women who received protective orders did not experience a violation within the following six months. Even for those who did experience a violation, the levels of violence and abuse declined significantly.

       In fact, in the area of intimate partner violence, we have substantial research spanning decades, including a lethality assessment that has been widely implemented, studied, and found to be effective. The tool, developed by Jacquelyn Campbell in 1985, has since been thoroughly examined and revised. An NIJ-supported study found that despite certain limitations, the Danger Assessment tool can, with some reliability, identify women who may be at risk of being killed by their intimate partners. After implementing a screening tool based on the Danger Assessment, Maryland realized an average decrease of 13 percent in domestic homicides over three years.

       Tools that have been studied and proven don't just make your jobs easier; they also make your services better. But, again, you have to know about them, and know how to use them or advocate for their use.

       Finally, in emerging areas, we are looking to produce new research and evaluations. NIJ recently issued a solicitation to identify solutions to the nationwide problem of untested evidence in sexual assault cases. NIJ wants to first understand why these sexual assault kits are not being tested and then develop approaches to solve the problem. This has obvious, and significant, implications for victim service providers who work with sexual assault victims.

       These are just a few of the many victim-centered research projects we support - covering topics ranging from elder abuse to campus sexual assault. Now it is our challenge - and our responsibility - to make sure that information is accessible to you.

       In a climate of increased scrutiny of public expenditures, we need to ask tough questions and provide valid answers. How is this research going to help you serve the underserved? Will applying this method save money? Does this approach help better manage resources? Will it leave you with more energy at the end of the day? And, if it will, how - and when - can we replicate it? We know that you need answers, and you certainly deserve them.

       We are asking you to commit yourselves to better using evidence, but we are simultaneously committing ourselves to helping you achieve that task. Let me emphasize that this is not a mandate. It is a partnership. We believe that E2I will help provide valid answers to those tough questions.

       As a first step, we have included in your materials a literature review on the topics being covered over the course of this meeting. We are hopeful you will be able to use the helpful research findings outlined in these abstracts to further your program development activities and reach the underserved.

       I'll end today by urging you to join us as we seek to make our approaches not just "smart on crime" but "smart for victims."

       Now, I'd like to introduce Dr. Phelan Wyrick. As I mentioned earlier, Phelan is really our guru for all things evidence, and he's been essential to the implementation of E2I.

       For the past twelve years, Phelan has served in our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, National Institute of Justice, and in the Office of the Assistant Attorney General. Before joining OJP, he was an internal researcher at the City of Westminster Police Department and conducted research with a variety of other justice agencies and community-based organizations in Southern California.

       Please welcome, Dr. Phelan Wyrick.


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