Good morning. I’m so honored to have been invited to be with you today. I want to thank Casey [Gwinn] and Gael [Strack], not just for having me today, but for being pioneers in the Family Justice Center movement.
I still remember being with Casey and Gael at the White House when President Bush announced the first $20 million for Family Justice Centers in the early 2000’s. Just think - that early seed money was just the beginning of what would turn out to be for so many survivors: a beacon of hope.
However, I come to you today with a heavy heart. Last Wednesday I traveled to Buffalo in the wake of the Tops Friendly Markets shooting. I had the great privilege of visiting with the victim advocates, the community outreach workers, the District Attorney’s office, the New York State VOCA Administrator, the United States Attorney, and the Federal prosecution team.
I went to memorials and paid my respects and I talked with people from the community who were absolutely shattered by what happened. It was a hard trip. It was sad. And so necessary.
So, when I learned about the shooting in Texas, it was like a punch to the gut. I don’t know what I can say that hasn’t already been said, except that we are all bearing witness to a shameful and uniquely American phenomenon that is so vile and evil that we’ve actually run out of ways to describe it.
We can’t know the toll this traumatic event will have on the survivors, families, students, school personnel, first responders, and the local community in the years to come. But we do know it will have one.
Part of OVC’s response is to direct funding to the communities that are impacted by mass violence events through our Antiterrorism and Emergency Assistance Program. That funding can be used for many things, including standing up resilience centers, providing mental health counseling, peer support, and many other services.
We’ve seen this funding being used years after an event to help those that are still grieving and processing the trauma. We’re indebted to organizations and service providers, such as yourselves, who are there to respond to the trauma, no matter what form it may take.
For those of you who know me, you know these two things about me. That being the Director of OVC is my dream job. And that I’ve had a lot of jobs. And over the course of this long career of mine, I’ve learned that there are three things that survivors need in order to heal and have agency over that process:
- Options. One size does not fit all, so not all remedies and responses are going to fit all survivors. We have to make sure there are enough options in place to give victims a choice that will work for them.
- Access. It doesn’t matter how amazing the program or intervention is if victims can’t get to it OR if they don’t know about it. We know that many people who experience crime in underheard and underserved communities have no idea that help is available to them.
- Information. This is something our criminal justice system struggles with – ensuring that survivors receive information about their case, about their options, and about the services that are available to them. When it comes to information, victims should be given the choice to “opt in” or “opt out” of receiving information, including decisions about who, how, and when information is delivered. And then it needs to be delivered.
These three things have shaped my priorities for my time at OVC.
The Family Justice Center approach is the embodiment of options, access, and information. As some of you might know, I’m a big fan of FJCs and I have visited them in Milwaukee, Alameda County, New Orleans, Manhattan, and Boston.
In fact, this concept greatly informed my views and recommendations when I served on the Department of Defense’s Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military. I’m hopeful we will see this idea in practice on military installations far and near.
I am particularly proud that OVC has been able to support the National Polyvictimization Initiative for the last 4 years.
Under the leadership of Casey Gwinn and Gael Strack, Susan Williams (a former OVC Deputy Director), Brynne Spain, and OVC Program Manager Stacy Phillips, we now have a validated, new Polyvictimization Assessment Tool! This tool can help adult survivors contextualize abuse and trauma and help them on pathways to hope and healing.
The Polyvictimization initiative is another one where I remember the moment that Susan Williams and I had the idea for that solicitation. Susan ran with it and the rest is history.
In addition, OVC has supported the creation of a multimillion dollar HIPAA- and VAWA-compliant intake system now called The HopeTech Suite. The HopeTech Suite will allow Family Justice Centers and victim service organizations to gather outcome data on their work that will drive evidence-based services and programs.
The value of having data to support the success of your organizations cannot be understated. It will help you to identify needs, improve your programs, and justify your budget when you make requests for increased funding.
I want to give a special shout out to Alliance Program Director Sarah Pike for her amazing work in collaboration with the one and only OVC grant manager Stacy Phillips, on the development of this Case Management System. This is great work and we are so proud to have supported it.
As you know, in April we commemorated National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. In keeping with my priorities for OVC, our theme was Rights, access, equity, for all victims. We chose this theme to underscore OVC’s deep commitment to lifting up the voices of historically underserved and unheard communities.
This year we held a candlelight vigil on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It was beautiful.
Mr. Aswad Thomas, Vice President of the Alliance for Safety and Justice, shared his powerful and heartbreaking story of being the victim of gun violence and how it derailed his promising future of playing professional basketball.
He spoke about the many barriers people face – particularly Black and Brown survivors - when trying to access victim services, particularly crime victim compensation. When he was shot, he had no idea that compensation was available to him. No one told him about it. Several of his relatives were also victims of gun violence. None of them had ever heard of or been offered crime victim compensation. This was really hard to hear and it is unacceptable.
So, we took it as a call to action and it has been made one of OVC’s top priorities to reform crime victim compensation. We are working closely with VOCA Administrators, survivors, and other advocates to reimagine what a really great compensation program could look like. Specifically:
- We are revising the current guidelines that govern the federal compensation program, which have not been updated in more than 21 years, with a new rule.
- The intent is to modernize the compensation program to better respond to the needs of crime victims, with an emphasis on equity and addressing programmatic barriers.
- OVC is undertaking extensive outreach efforts to help us understand from our many partners – state administrators, Tribal community members, survivors, and other advocates – how the compensation program can be strengthened to increase access and equity.
- OVC will host six discussion sessions before the official rulemaking process even commences; and the public will have ample time to provide further feedback after the draft new rule is published.
- OVC expects to publish the draft rule in February 2023, with the hope that the final published rule will be released in December 2023.
I know it sounds like that is a long way away. But, it’s not as far away as you think.
I’m excited to tell you that all of OVC’s Fiscal Year 2022 funding opportunities have posted. This year’s slate of solicitations was staff-led and based on the current needs of our field. I’d like to highlight a few:
- The first is one that directly speaks to my priorities – increasing options and expanding access. This $2.25 million dollar program is a field-generated initiative to develop or enhance promising practices, models, and programs that offer innovative solutions to build the capacity of service providers in underrepresented communities. This solicitation provides an option for funding innovative approaches that do not easily fit within the criteria of other OVC solicitations.
- OVC is also committing $5 million dollars to improve and expand the availability of accessible victim-centered, trauma-informed services for crime victims who are disabled, Deaf, hard-of-hearing, limited English proficient, blind, and/or visually impaired.
- We are teaming up with HHS to commit $1 million for the development of Standards of Care for working with human trafficking victims.
- We anticipate funding $1.5 million for Advancing Hospital-Based Victim Services. The goal of this solicitation is to support evidence-based models, practices, and policies that improve partnerships between the victim services field and hospitals and other medical facilities to where victims of gun violence, assault, robbery and other violent crimes often first present themselves.
- We hope to expand much needed access to sexual assault forensic examinations through a $4 million dollar initiative that will fund the development or expansion of SANE programs and a TA provider.
There are many more – I hope you will check out OVC’s website to see the full list.
Looking ahead, the FY 2023 President’s Budget includes a new $50 million Victim Advocate Program.
The Victim Advocate Program would allow OVC to issue grant awards for highly trained victim advocates to be trained and placed in communities experiencing rising levels of violent crime, including gun violence. This program has the potential to significantly improve the community and criminal justice responses to victims by connecting them with victim advocates (ACCESS) who can connect them with the services they want and need (OPTIONS) and by making sure they have choices about if, how, and when they want to interact with the criminal justice system. (INFORMATION). Notice a theme here?
If this program is ultimately funded by Congress, I believe it could be a game changer by providing a pathway to enhancing community trust and safety.
There is so much incredible work being done to support survivors, and much of that work is being done in Family Justice Centers. It is an honor of a lifetime to have the ability to support that work from our offices in OVC.
Sasha Rutizer, my wonderful chief of staff, found this great Mr. Rogers quote. “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
Well, I’m looking at the helpers, you are the ones who take care of people after their worst moments. You care for them, you treat them, and most importantly, you give them hope. Thank you for that. And thank you for your time this morning.