Director of the Office on Violence Against Women, Susan B. Carbon, Speaks at the Launching of the Anti-Violence Initiative for the Northern District of West Virginia
July 11, 2011
Northern Regional Jail, Moundsville, WV ~ July 11, 2011
Thank you, Bill [William J. Ihlenfeld, II, United States Attorney, Northern District of West Virginia].
You know the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence gave you the highest compliment that could be paid to any of us in the Federal government: they said you “get it.”
That’s what we all strive for – to truly understand the complex issues facing victims of domestic violence.
Here in West Virginia you’re tackling those complexities head-on. And as you do it, you’re listening to the voices of female inmates themselves. It was so powerful to listen to the women of the Northern Regional Jail this morning, to hear their stories and learn from their insights.
The impact of incarceration on women – and our society – is profound. Since 1991, the number of children with a mother in prison has more than doubled, up 131%. Half of incarcerated mothers have children under the age of 9. These mothers fear that leaving their children in the care of their fathers puts them at risk for abuse and neglect. Many women have said their partners were physically or sexually abusive to their children, and they were worried they would be unable to regain custody when they left prison
I say this everywhere I speak, at conferences around the country or in a hearing room before the Senate Judiciary Committee: we need to include the least empowered members of the community – the victims, their families and friends – in our search for solutions. We all need to “get” it like U.S. Attorney Ihlenfeld does. This in turn will create a safer environment, where we can stop violence before it starts.
The majority of female inmates experienced abuse before their incarceration. And though we are all responsible for our choices and must be held accountable for them, many victims of domestic violence find themselves with limited options, feeling trapped, and making a bad decision.
Studies of incarcerated women revealed that their criminal activity was often committed in response to victimization. Many were forced or coerced to commit crimes such as shoplifting, check fraud, robbery, prostitution, or murder. Some had fought back or even killed their abusers.
Thanks to the new Project POWER anti-violence initiative here in Northern District of West Virginia, fewer women will find themselves in that position. As they leave prison and re-enter their communities, they will be better prepared to avoid the common traps that might send them back to jail.
The Office on Violence Against Women recently funded the National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women to work with two pilot sites – one here in West Virginia – to help state systems better respond to battered women charged with crimes. We’re pleased to see that work blossoming and intertwining with the Attorney General’s anti-violence strategy.
Attorney General Eric Holder says, "Federal prosecutors should see themselves as community problem solvers." We cannot simply react to violent crime with prosecution – we must identify and address the issues that drive the problem of violence in communities.
As U.S. Attorney Ihlenfeld noted, Project POWER incorporates all three components of the Attorney General’s anti violence strategy: focusing on strong enforcement of Federal firearms restrictions; educating incarcerated women about the dangers of purchasing or holding a firearm for someone else; and supporting those women in making better choices and avoiding abusive relationships once they are released.
Your work to prevent gun crimes is particularly crucial for victims of domestic violence. Family and intimate partner assaults involving firearms are 12 times more likely to result in death than those that do not involve firearms. In 2008, 54% of women who were killed by intimate partners were killed with a firearm, usually a handgun.
Your additional outreach to juvenile offenders and high school students will undoubtedly make the project even more successful. We have learned how critical it is to reach young people – without intervention, children exposed to violence are at a higher risk of engaging in criminal behavior later in life.
The Attorney General launched the Defending Childhood Initiative to reduce the prevalence of children exposed to violence and mitigate the impact of exposure when it does occur. This important work will hopefully reduce future violent crimes and lower incarceration rates for both women and men.
The Attorney General has called on all of us to be flexible, creative, and adaptable, and to bring in a wide-range of partners. The West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, the West Virginia Division of Corrections, the West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the Lee Day Report Center, and the West Virginia Division of Juvenile Services are all important partners in this project and I thank them for their involvement and their commitment to reducing gun violence and helping incarcerated victims of domestic violence safely return to their communities.
I’m proud to be here today with all of you, looking toward a future where we prevent gun violence, and where victims of domestic violence get the support and information they need to make good choices and avoid prison. When we work together and engage communities we can give voice to all victims and answer their call for healing and justice.