Last month, we celebrated Women’s History Month and the reauthorization and modernization of the Violence Against Women Act
(VAWA). We honored the progress society has made since the original
VAWA passed in 1994, and we also acknowledged the work ahead to make
equality real for all. As I said then, “Preventing and ending violence
creates a more equal and equitable world for women and girls, and people
of all genders who experience harm.” April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month
– this month, we lift up and believe survivors; express our endless
gratitude to service providers and advocates; and rededicate ourselves
to ending sexual violence.
As President Biden said in his remarks celebrating VAWA reauthorization,
those who worked on the original law in the 1990s – including our own
Deputy Attorney General, Lisa O. Monaco – and those who worked on VAWA
2022 did not only set out to change the law, but to change the culture
as well. Too many communities and individuals, such as persons with
disabilities and People of Color, experience sexual violence at
disproportionate rates. And these survivors are our loved ones,
coworkers, and members of our communities: more than 33% of women and
nearly 25% of men have experienced physical sexual violence, according
to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The Department’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) is embracing this spirit of changing the culture in many fiscal year (FY) 2022 grant award solicitations
by prioritizing efforts to prevent and end sexual assault. This may
include activities such as improving outreach, services, and support for
survivors of sexual assault, investing in survivor-centered
improvements to the criminal justice process, and addressing online
abuse, harassment, and sexual exploitation. OVW’s Sexual Assault Services Program
(SASP) also reaches every state and territory. In a recent year, SASP
subgrantees reported providing services to 46,280 survivors of sexual
assault. For FY 2023, OVW has requested
$100 million for SASP funding – nearly double the funding SASP received
from Congress for FY 2022 – to significantly increase awards to states
and territories, enabling rape crisis centers to serve tens of thousands
more survivors each year.
It is devastating that for many, sexual abuse begins in childhood.
Every child deserves to grow up in a safe and loving home. The CDC estimates that one in four girls and one in 13 boys will suffer child sexual abuse – more common than many of us are aware. Healing Services for Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse
is a newly launched, OVW-funded virtual course that focuses on this
significant issue and provides resources for those who serve domestic
violence and sexual assault survivors, many of whom may also be
survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The course provides lessons about
survivors, the impact of trauma, trauma-informed approaches to healing,
and a module for SASP administrators. The course was developed by the Resource Sharing Project through OVW funding.
VAWA 2022 also strengthens the Department of Justice Civil Rights
Division’s ability to prosecute those who commit sexual assault under color of law.
Most of these offenses disproportionately affect women, including
transgender women, and prior to VAWA 2022, they were misdemeanors
punishable by less than one year in prison. Under VAWA 2022, all forms
of sexual assault committed under color of law are felonies with
penalties based on severity of the conduct. In addition, VAWA 2022 made
it a strict liability federal crime for federal law enforcement officers
to engage in sexual conduct with those who are under arrest, under
supervision, in detention, or in federal custody – meaning that consent
is no longer a defense to such consent. In closing this consent loophole
with regard to federal law enforcement offers and by bringing parity to
the penalty structure for sexual misconduct committed under color of
law at all levels of government, VAWA 2022 not only gives the Department
the tools it needs to hold individuals accountable but strengthens our
ability to vindicate the constitutional rights of survivors.
DOJ-funded services are essential for survivors, and OVW and the Department’s Office for Victims of Crime
(OVC) grantees create projects and programs that meaningfully and
compassionately address sexual violence. If you or someone you know is
experiencing or has experienced sexual violence, there are many services
available to help, including the Sexual Assault Hotline, 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), and the StrongHearts Native Helpline, 1-844-7NATIVE (762-8483). In addition, you can find a local resources page on OVW’s website,
which lists state sexual assault coalitions that can direct you to
local resources and services, as well as opportunities to get involved.
OVC also has a featured resources website for Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. I want all survivors to know: you are not alone.