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Director of the Office on Violence Against Women, Susan B. Carbon, Speaks at the Sixth Annual Meeting of the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues and National Women Leaders of the Judiciary

Washington, DC ~ July 7, 2011

Greetings!  What a powerful combination – women legislators and women judges! 

As many of you know, the Office on Violence Against Women leads national efforts to respond to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking.  We implement the Violence Against Women Act, one of the many legislative accomplishments of the Congressional Caucus on Women’s Issues, working of course with then-Senator, now Vice President, Biden.  These Congresswomen have an impressive track record of getting things done! 

And they’re lucky to hear from the many judges here today, because judges are in the perfect position to inform legislators about what’s happening in every corner of America.  I know because I’ve been there.

Prior to my current role as Director of the Office on Violence Against Women, I served as a family court judge in New Hampshire for 20 years.  Over the years, I realized that judicial leadership can be the spark that brings a community together to tackle violence against women. 

As Judges you help ensure access to justice for even the most vulnerable in our communities – be they a child who has been sexually assaulted and is afraid to testify in court or a victim of domestic violence who doesn’t speak English as well as the husband who beat her.  You have the opportunity to ensure their voices are heard in the courtroom and heard here on Capitol Hill. 

We at the Department of Justice have long been listening to what judges like you have to say, and it’s informed our grant programs, our policy decisions, and our work with Congress on the next Violence Against Women Act – due for reauthorization this year.

You’ve told us that intervening at an early age is critical if we are to break the cycle of violence that you’ve seen play out through generations in your courtrooms. 

In response, we are focusing on teen dating violence and funding programs that provide young people with tools to recognize abusive behavior in relationships.  We’re looking at family courts, and how they can better protect both parents and their children.  We are also invested in providing a safety net for children who have been exposed to violence or victimized by violence. 

The Attorney General is personally committed to this issue, and has launched the Defending Childhood Initiative to prevent childhood exposure to violence, mitigate the negative impacts when it does occur, and increase knowledge and awareness of the problem.
You’ve told us that law enforcement, courts, and victim advocates must work together in a coordinated community response to create a culture where victims feel safe reporting crimes, where they will be treated with respect, and where judges and juries will hold offenders accountable.  Many of our grantees are bringing everyone to the table through integrated domestic violence courts that handle civil and criminal cases together – protection orders, criminal charges, child custody, and more.

And lately, you’ve told us that fiscal challenges are hitting courts hard.  Fortunately there are Violence Against Women Act funds your courts can use to reduce domestic and sexual violence in your communities.

Every state and territory receives STOP Violence Against Women Formula Grants.  5% of those funds are set aside at the state level for courts.  If your court isn’t benefiting from those funds, let your state know about the needs in your courtroom and your ideas for change.  Each state has a planning process to determine how to spend their funds – your input is valuable not only in how the court funds are allocated, but on how to address the broader needs in the community.

We also have a discretionary Courts Improvement Grant Program, which helps civil and criminal courts improve their processes, educate their personnel, and respond to victims.  For example:

  • In Detroit, the Third Circuit Court of Michigan is partnering with 15 community organizations to create a specialized Solution Oriented Domestic Violence Prevention Court.
  • The Kansas City Municipal Court is creating a coordinated system for tracking domestic violence offenders to ensure offender accountability and enhance victim safety.
  • The Northern California Tribal Court Coalition is establishing a dedicated domestic violence court to improve the judicial handling of domestic violence and ensure offender accountability in innovative, culturally appropriate ways that honor the sovereignty of each member Tribe.

I want to encourage you to apply for these funds.  To my surprise, 17 states and 4 territories have not yet applied.

You’ve also told us that language access is essential, that victims and perpetrators both must be heard, clearly and fairly before justice can be done.  It’s more than just language, what you see in your courtroom might look different than what you expect.  For instance, extended family members may have participated in the abuse.  You may notice that your interpreters struggle in domestic violence and sexual assault cases.  Does the victim talk for two minutes and the interpreter summarizes in 30 seconds?  Does the victim seem intimidated by the interpreter? 

Interpreters need training on domestic violence and sexual assault so they understand the context of what they’re hearing and translate more easily.  Your court can partner with law schools, victim service providers, and local cultural organizations to build your base of interpreters, though in small communities, the interpreter may know the victim or perpetrator.

The Texas Office of Court Administration is using our Courts Improvement Program funding solve this problem.  They’re creating a call center where district and county-level courts across Texas can obtain remote-site interpretation services for civil legal proceedings involving violence against women.

The Department of Justice’s Federal Compliance division is working with courts to achieve our mutual language access goals.  On June 28th, the Department signed a model Memorandum of Agreement with the Colorado Judicial Department.  Colorado will provide comprehensive, qualified, free language assistance in all court proceedings and operations. 

Domestic violence homicides have dropped significantly since the passage of VAWA.  But still today, intimate partner homicides account for 14% of all homicides in the U.S. Some experts estimate that for every woman who is killed, at least nine are nearly killed.  

There is a growing consensus that domestic violence homicides are predictable and therefore often preventable. For example, since implementing their High Risk Case Response Team, Newburyport Massachusetts has had no domestic violence homicides.

  • The President’s Budget requested $9 million for a new initiative to screen victims, contain offenders, and provide victims in these cases with more comprehensive services over longer periods of time.

  • Civil Protection Orders: A Guide for Improving Practice will keep victims and their children safe by providing guidance to judges, law enforcement officers, attorneys, prosecutors, and advocates to ensure that protective orders are issued, served and enforce throughout the United States.  This “CPO Guide,” also known as the Burgundy Book, helps everyone involved in a court case follow best practices, including strategies to reduce homicides .

No matter what you and your court are trying to achieve, our grantees have resources and technical assistance you can access today – the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, the ABA Commission on Domestic Violence, the Legal Resource Center on Violence Against Women, the Center for Court Innovation, the National Center for State Courts, and the Asian Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence have materials on their websites and are happy to take your calls.  Contact our office and we can share models of what’s working in other communities.

While much has been done to improve our nation’s response to domestic violence and sexual assault, there is still work to do if we are to reach our collective goal of breaking the cycle of violence that plagues families and communities across our country. 

We must remember that violence against women is not just a women’s issue, but one that wholly affects the economy and security of our country, and indeed every country.  When women prosper, entire nations follow.  It is not until we have the secured the safety and full participation of women in societies around the world that we will see true peace and prosperity. 

In fact, I view violence against women, in all its forms, as a fundamental human rights issue.  And whether it is used as a weapon of war against an entire people, or to break one individual’s spirit, we all know its impact is profound:  it usurps victims of their rights to sovereignty over their own persons.

Judges are essential to ensuring this nation’s transformation with respect to violence against women.  You are the front lines in the struggle against family violence and I am proud to call you partners in this mission.

Thank you for coming to Washington and sharing your voices with us.


Updated: July 2011
Find Local Resources
General Information Office on Violence Against Women
Bea Hanson
Principal Deputy Director
Office on Violence Against Women
145 N St., NE, Suite 10W.121
Washington, D.C. 20530
Fax: 202-305-2589
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