Remarks of Mary Lou Leary, Acting Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs
2009 Victims of Crime Act National Training Conference
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Thank you, Steve, for that kind introduction.
The comments from the Attorney General are one of the reasons that I'm pleased to be back at the Office of Justice Programs after my time at the National Center for Victims of Crime.
Attorney General Holder and President Obama are committed to serving crime victims, and I think that we're fortunate to have their strong support.
I've spent most of my career involved, in some way, in working with victims and I know that you all are the bedrock of victim assistance.
And we couldn't do our job without your help.
Serving victims is a priority at OJP, and not just for the dedicated staff in the Office for Victims of Crime.
Throughout OJP, we have been meeting with those in the field to explore ways to collaborate across OJP and infuse our efforts with an evidence-based approach that better serves crime victims, law enforcement, and others in criminal justice.
There is a workshop tomorrow afternoon about performance, outcomes, and evidence-based practices, and I encourage you to attend it to learn more about how to incorporate an evidence-based approach into what you do.
This focus on an evidence-based approach isn't new. In a way, it's back to the future!
In 1998, OVC published a report called New Directions from the Field: Victims' Rights and Services for the 21st Century.
This comprehensive report and its recommendations on crime victims' rights and services from, and concerning, virtually every community involved with crime victims has guided our work since then.
Of course, during the past decade, new issues have surfaced or become more prominent, including those that originate or occur outside our borders, such as 9/11 and the bombings in Africa and Indonesia, human trafficking, online child sexual exploitation, and identity theft.
I'm sure many of you know, Joye Frost, OVC's acting director. Joye is not here today because she is speaking at a conference we are sponsoring in Denver about serving crime victims with disabilities. Our Bureau of Justice Statistics will be releasing a study tomorrow about crimes against persons with disabilities.
Many of you are following the improvements that have been made in the collection and analysis of DNA evidence. And there is no question that accurate collection and analysis of this evidence is important; however, we also are seeing cases where DNA evidence has exonerated someone convicted of a crime. And the impact on the victims in these cases can be devastating. In a recent book, Picking Cotton, by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton, tell the story together of Jennifer's rape and the impact of mistakenly identifying Ronald as the rapist. Ronald was exonerated by DNA and the two collaborated on the book.
At the same time, there are a number of intractable issues that remain challenging. For example, protection orders and custody issues remain problematic victim issues.
I know that many of your offices are feeling the impact of today's ailing economy. We are concerned about the connection between lost jobs and an increase in reports of domestic violence. In addition, we know that the budgets of some non-profits that serve victims are under pressure because donations have declined.
We also need to integrate our prevention efforts with victim services and be more willing to discuss the role of problem solving courts and reentry efforts. There sometimes is a fine line between victimization and offending, particularly when it relates to sexting and prison rape.
And we need to be candid about the effectiveness of services. For example, our Bureau of Justice Statistics found that in 2005, homicide victimization rates for African Americans were 6 times higher than the rates for whites. The Attorney General has made it clear that one of his top priorities was ensuring that victim services be available to underserved populations. And we need to consider whether we are adequately meeting the needs of this population.
One way for us to find out is through the forums OVC is planning to take stock of the state of victims' rights and services. We'll keep you posted about the dates for these forums.
In the meantime, there is a National Training and Technical Assistance Needs Assessment Survey on OVC's website that will take you about 30 minutes to complete.
Your input is very important in developing and designing new training opportunities for those who work to benefit victims of crime, either directly or indirectly, and I hope that you will take the time to complete this survey.
I think the OVC staff is second to none, but they can't do their work in a vacuum. So, please give us your feedback.
In closing, I'd like to echo the Attorney General and thank you for all you do everyday to help crime victims. I look forward to working with you to find ways to serve them better.