Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Hello, everyone, and thank you to Karen [Baker] for that kind introduction. I am joining you today from Washington, D.C., the ancestral and traditional homeland of the Nacotchtank or Anacostan and Piscataway peoples. As a survivor and a longtime advocate, it is deeply meaningful to join you virtually today.
I would like to thank Joyce Lukima and everyone at the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, as well as the National Sexual Violence Resource Center and ValorUS for their work in putting together such a profound and inspirational NSAC 2022.
And I must give a heartfelt thank you to the presenters for their expertise and passion. As I pored over this year’s conference agenda, I could not wait to dive in, and – as the theme tells us – embrace intersectionality.
As you all know well, Kimberlé Crenshaw, the law professor, thinker, and scholar who coined the term “intersectionality,” defined it as “a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects.”
As practitioners and advocates, and for us in the federal government, we see so many intersections. We see how power – or lack of power – and inherent bias within systems can significantly impact or harm so many survivors, especially those from historically marginalized communities.
You see this every single day in your work.
One of our grantees, the Violence Intervention Program, Inc. – a Latina-led organization that provides healing, housing, and economic justice to thousands of survivors each year in New York – told us that their clients reported structural and cultural barriers at the policy and implementation levels. And that led to unreported crimes, re-traumatization, and marginalization.
In addition, many survivors refrained from reporting assaults or entering the legal system because the intersections of sexual violence with immigration and socioeconomic status coalesced into very real fears of being deported, fired from a job, or losing their children to a broken child welfare system.
The inability of law enforcement and the legal system to meet these survivors’ needs for language access and cultural humility meant that, for some survivors, their abuse was minimized or ignored, and justice was delayed or entirely denied.
The list goes on and on. It is unacceptable.
And this is why, for OVW, ‘embracing intersectionality’ is a call to action: we must be conscious of all systems of oppression, and center the survivors who live at the intersections, and can therefore be the hardest to reach. It is imperative that we think about imposed barriers to access, service, safety, justice, and healing – including barriers in our own services and systems – and find ways to break those barriers down.
To do this, racial equity needs to be front and center in our efforts to end sexual assault and all forms of gender-based violence.
At OVW, we are determined to make that commitment real through strategies like improving access to funding for organizations that are by and for Communities of Color and historically marginalized and underserved populations.
In this year’s grant solicitations, we prioritized funding and technical assistance for culturally specific, community-based organizations, tribal organizations, and population-specific organizations. We also identified ways to make solicitations more welcoming and easier to navigate, and we implemented strategies to increase successful applications from these organizations.
These efforts are just a start. We know we have a long way to go, and I can tell you lots of work is underway for next year.
A second key aspect of embracing intersectionality is listening. We want to listen to historically marginalized communities who have been serving sexual assault survivors since time immemorial – long before the term ‘intersectionality’ was coined – but who get excluded from the conversation.
Our job is to listen to you and let communities and survivors lead. To do this we must listen closely…
… to survivors at multiple intersections such as incarcerated survivors of sexual violence, survivors who are struggling with opioid use, or those who work in the sex industry or have survived trafficking.
… to survivors who have been harmed – not only by perpetrators of sexual violence, but also by the systems that were supposed to protect, not retraumatize.
… to transgender survivors, particularly Black and Brown trans women, who face epidemic rates of violence and homicide.
… to survivors with disabilities and survivors who are Deaf and hard of hearing.
… to the migrant mother in detention, who fled sexual violence in her own country and now finds herself under the dominion of unfriendly laws that impact her safety.
… to survivors who are challenging, and have needs that we don’t know how to begin to meet with the limited resources at hand.
We must listen to and lift up those survivors who it might be the very hardest to hear.
Even though our office at OVW is full of lifelong advocates and survivors, passionate about ending sexual violence – we are not the experts. You are. And survivors are, and we will follow their lead.
For OVW, that means expanding pathways to justice in order to improve access to justice for all survivors – however they define justice.
Under the 2022 Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act – or VAWA 2022 – OVW can support survivors who seek justice outside of the criminal justice system through restorative practices and other kinds of accountability. We know that justice comes in many forms, and different survivors seek restoration to their wellbeing in different ways.
OVW has also convened a series of virtual roundtables to explore intervention programs and options to address violence in diverse and survivor-centered ways, to learn about strategies that are new or, more often, are rooted in centuries of Indigenous practices or community care.
To improve access for sexual assault survivors who do want a criminal justice system response – and many tell us that that they do – we are expanding options through legal assistance and trauma-informed prosecution and sexual assault forensic examinations – particularly by improving access for survivors in rural areas or who have not had equitable access to programs, services, and legal remedies.
VAWA 2022 also restores jurisdiction to Tribes to prosecute non-Indian perpetrators of sexual violence and sex trafficking, among other offenses committed on tribal lands, and expands this jurisdiction to Alaska Native villages who were previously left out. Honoring tribal sovereignty is crucial to advancing access to justice.
And for currently or previously incarcerated sexual assault survivors, OVW and the Bureau of Justice Assistance launched the National Service Line for Incarcerated Survivors of Sexual Abuse Initiative, which will be developed in consultation with subject matter experts and – crucially – those with lived experiences.
I am also excited to share that we support strengthening economic support as a strategy for violence prevention and reduction. Evidence suggests that poverty, financial stress, and low income can increase the risk for violence. We need to look at financial empowerment, housing, vocational training, AND direct financial assistance. We need put resources directly into the hands of survivors, because survivors know best what works for them.
And I’m thrilled that today, we’re announcing 56 awards totaling over $35 million under our Sexual Assault Services Formula Grant Program. That’s an increase of more than $7 million compared to last year. This grant funding will help tens of thousands of survivors of sexual violence in every state and territory.
In the coming weeks, OVW will be announcing an unprecedented amount of funding for sexual assault services across our many different VAWA programs. We prioritized sexual assault this year, and we are thrilled to have more successful sexual assault-focused grants than ever before.
I really want to encourage you to partner with us at OVW: we are always looking to welcome new grantees. We’re expanding our focus on non-intimate partner sexual assault and including sexual assault across the lifespan, so that survivors can find help when they are ready. Information on our grants, purpose areas, and how to apply can all be found on our website.
We cannot do this work alone. We must continue this fight together, embracing intersectionality, and breaking down every barrier.
Thank you to all of the direct service providers for your tireless work. You are working to end sexual violence and we are so proud to support you. Your voices are essential and your feedback on how OVW can improve is always welcome.
And thank you to the entire field for your efforts in advocating for VAWA 2022: for focusing on the backlog of rape kits and on trauma-informed care; for uplifting the importance of SANE nurses; for adapting telehealth to address sexual assault; and for pushing for laws that are responsive to, and that center, survivors.
Most of all, to the survivors, to everyone in this audience who has struggled and is here today to turn that pain into action: we see you. We are with you. We value you, as the inherently worthy and beautiful human beings you are. Our collective work together is going to change the world.