Attorney General Eric Holder, Department of Justice officials, advocates, and survivors came together on April 12, 2010, to commemorate Sexual Assault Awareness Month. In April 2009, President Obama became the first president to mark April as a time to honor victims of sexual assault and recognize the work of advocates around the country who fight on their behalf. Read the President's proclamation on National Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
In the Department of Justice's Great Hall, before hundreds of guests, Attorney General Holder, Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli, Director of the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) Susan Carbon, and OVW Deputy Director Catherine Pierce discussed the Department’s ongoing and steadfast commitment to preventing sexual assaults from occurring and prosecuting offenders when they do. By working with federal, state, local, and tribal partners, the Department has made tremendous progress fighting sexual assault. But Attorney General Holder also issued a call to action, asking everyone in the audience and around the country to work even harder to end these horrific crimes.
"During a career spent as a prosecutor, a judge, and a U.S. Attorney, I have seen the effects of sexual violence -- in the courtroom and far beyond," Attorney General Holder said. "I understand how these crimes can devastate lives, families, and communities. But I've never been more hopeful about our ability to make meaningful progress in ending sexual assault."
A number of advocates spoke about their experiences fighting on behalf of victims of sexual assault.
Kim Worthy, a District Attorney in Wayne County, Mich., and a former circuit court judge, discussed her experience as a victim of assault, and her work in the courtroom to fight for those who have been sexually abused and assaulted.
Nicole Matthews, the Executive Director for Minnesota Indian Women's Sexual Assault Coalition, a statewide coalition for American Indian Sexual Assault Advocates in Minnesota, voiced the need to create awareness and influence social change among American Indian women to eliminate the sexual violence perpetrated against them.
Joyce Lukima, currently the Deputy Director of Field Services for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape/National Sexual Violence Resource Center, explained their critical work providing skill development for professionals assisting victims of sexual assault and provided a focus on sexual assault in prisons.
Bonnie Brand, the Director of the National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life, a project of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence, discussed abuse of senior citizens. Brand explained why the elderly, some of the most vulnerable members of society, are abused and how we must work to end abuse in later life.
Finally, Monika Johnson Hostler, the Executive Director of the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault, discussed her work for the last 13 years to end sexual and domestic violence, both on the local and national level.
Additionally, the audience viewed a film entitled Boys and Men Healing, which sheds light on men who are victims of sexual abuse. Attorney General Holder told the audience that along with 19 million American women, 3 million men have also experienced at least one incident of sexual assault. The Department is working to confront this reality and to create opportunities to act, to educate, and to collaborate.
The event was part of a larger awareness campaign commemorating the 15th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act and the creation of the Office on Violence Against Women. The Department kicked off a year-long effort to raise public awareness, build stronger coalitions among federal, state, local and tribal communities, and redouble efforts to end sexual assault, domestic and dating violence, and stalking for men, women, and children across the country.
Margaret Richardson is Counselor to the Attorney General and represents the Department of Justice on the White House Council on Women and Girls