Message from OVW Director, Susan B. Carbon – Sexual Assault Awareness Month

While our ‘issue’ isn’t sexual violence or sexual violence prevention,  it is important that we discuss and address all forms of interpersonal violence. We know that sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape are often tactics used in abusive relationships as a means of establishing and maintaining power and control. It is thus, equally important that we talk about what healthy relationship behaviors look like and make sure programs are in place to address this form of violence.

In honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, please see the letter from Susan B. Carbon, Director of the Office on Violence Against Women, below. The letter details what efforts are being made at the national level to address this issue. You can find other pieces, including the one below, by Ms. Carbon here.

A Message from OVW Director Susan B. Carbon

Dear Friends,

When I started as Director of the Office on Violence Against Women nearly one year ago, one of my top priorities was to make sexual assault a bigger focus at OVW.   When the Violence Against Women Act was passed in 1994, sexual assault was included as one of the crimes to be addressed.  There is a general consensus, however, that for a variety of reasons, sexual assault has not received the same level of attention as has domestic violence.  As a result, sexual assault remains a tragically pervasive, costly, and underreported problem.

This April, as we celebrate Sexual Assault Awareness Month with the national community, we have the opportunity to learn more about the crime and the devastating impact it has on victims and entire communities, and to commit ourselves to bring justice to the victims and their families and to hold perpetrators accountable.

Sexual violence is a complex crime that affects every sector of our society.   It has no boundaries in terms of gender, geographic location, race, ethnicity, economic class or sexual orientation.  U.S. government statistics reveal that one in six women will experience an attempted or completed rape at some time in her life.  In certain areas and demographics, this number increases dramatically. As two chilling examples of its far-reaching grasp, studies show that one in four college women will experience sexual assault over the course of their college career and it has been estimated that one in three Native American women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. The National Crime Victimization Survey found that there were nearly 200,000 incidents of rape and sexual assault in the United States in one year alone.

Contrary to what many Americans believe, sexual violence does not just occur in dark alleys, perpetrated by weapon-wielding strangers. Often, a sexual violence offender is known by the victim, and the assaults are committed in places where the victim should feel the safest: at home or at a friend’s home. Alarmingly, the 2006 National Violence Against Women Study found that only one in five of the victims assessed reported their rape to the police.  There are a host of reasons for which many victims will never seek justice, including fear of not being believed, having to relive a traumatic experience, or fear of retribution, to list a few.

During this month’s awareness campaign we are shining a light on the crime of sexual assault, working to dismantle myths and transform misguided cultural attitudes and reactions about rape.  Our staff will be participating in Sexual Assault Awareness Month Events in eleven states throughout the country.  These events, coordinated by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center and local sexual assault organizations and coalitions, will allow us to see some of the important work occurring in the field, as well as share OVW’s national goal of ending sexual assault.  The theme of this year’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month, “It’s time…to get involved,” encourages people across the United States to take ownership of the issue of sexual assault and promote responsible actions that ordinary citizens can take to intervene and prevent it. We hope you will view the list of events on our website our website and attend one in your area.

Additionally, this past October, we were proud to collaborate with the White House Council on Women and Girls to host a first-ever Roundtable on Sexual Violence in the United States, beginning a national conversation about sexual violence: what it looks like now, and what we want to be able to accomplish in the next five years.  This event brought together law enforcement, judges, survivors, prosecutors, medical professionals and federal employees from all across the country to heighten our discussions as well as develop a plan of action to address this heinous crime. While advocates and experts from the field discussed a public awareness campaign, federal experts were able to listen to the needs of the stakeholders on the ground and hear how the federal government can and should heighten their assistance to address sexual violence in America.  The Roundtable allowed those in the field and at the national level to effectively communicate how each can help the other to achieve mutual success, both at the local and the national level, by establishing next steps to ultimately end sexual violence against women. Attached you will find a report documenting the important conversations that occurred during this Roundtable.  In honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we encourage you to circulate this document to your friends, families, and colleagues.

This year, in addition to the Roundtable and attached Roundtable report,  OVW has launched the Sexual Assault Demonstration Initiative (SADI), the first large scale project to determine best practices and needed action in reaching more sexual assault survivors and providing comprehensive sexual assault services. The vast majority of supportive services available to victims of sexual assault are currently offered through agencies that are not exclusively dedicated to serving sexual assault survivors, but are co-located or merged in agencies that are also providing services to domestic violence victims.  Researchers have found that these agencies, also known as “dual agencies,” are often weighted heavily toward domestic violence crisis programming, with sexual assault receiving limited attention in terms of agency mission, budget, or dedicated staff with specific expertise in serving sexual assault victims. This is often reflected in the programming of the agency, and unfortunately, the number of sexual assault survivors served and the limited types of services provided to this population.  The needs of sexual assault survivors are not the same as those of domestic violence survivors, and must be met with specialized care.   Dual agencies that seek to create significant institutional change in response to sexual assault are often faced with limited financial and organizational resources to adequately respond to the needs of sexual assault victims within their communities. SADI has been designed to address the challenges that dual agencies face in reaching sexual assault survivors within their communities.

Through the SADI, a limited group of dual agencies that demonstrate a desire to enhance sexual assault services and have the organizational capacity to effectuate change will be selected to participate as national SADI project sites.  Using a strength based self-assessment, each of the SADI project sites will create an action plan to:  1) increase outreach to those populations most likely experiencing sexual assault in their communities, but not currently accessing services; 2) develop models of service provision that prioritize the needs of sexual assault survivors beyond immediate crisis responses currently offered; and 3) assess the efficacy of those steps in increasing the numbers and types of sexual assault survivors who access those newly enhanced services. We anticipate that the SADI project site awards will be announced in the spring of 2011.

Finally, the Office on Violence Against Women will continue to work to end sexual assault through its staff Sexual Assault Working Group, numerous sexual assault specific grant programs, and the commitment of the current Administration to end all violence, including sexual violence, against women.  We are supported in our work by President Obama, Vice President Biden, Attorney General Holder, and countless United  States Attorneys and other elected officials in a commitment to find innovative ways to meet the needs of victims and hold offenders accountable. President Obama became the first President to proclaim the month as National Sexual Assault Awareness Month.  He did this in April of 2009, a few months after entering office. He emphasized the need for “increased awareness about this issue [to] prevent future crimes, and aid victims.”  This year, President Obama continues his call to end Sexual Assault worldwide in his Presidential Proclamation, where he states:

Each victim of sexual assault represents a sister or a daughter, a nephew or a friend. We must break the silence so no victim anguishes without resources or aid in their time of greatest need. We must continue to reinforce that America will not tolerate sexual violence within our borders. Likewise, we will partner with countries across the globe as we work toward a common vision of a world free from the threat of sexual violence, including as a tool of conflict. Working together, we can reduce the incidence of sexual assault and heal lives that have already been devastated by this terrible crime.

In a country that has made such progress in addressing domestic violence, we feel the moral imperative to develop a national dialogue and national focus on ending sexual violence against all women. We hope this Sexual Assault Awareness Month will give us the opportunity to share our commitment across the country, in communities of all types, spreading the important message that sexual violence must end.  As President Obama stated in April 2010: “Sexual violence is an affront against our national conscience, one which we cannot ignore.”  We hope this month, you will help us shine the light on this tragic crime, and assist in our efforts to give it the attention it desperately needs to ultimately be a part of our nation’s history, and not its future.

With Hope,

Susan B. Carbon

OVW Director

U.S. Department of Justice

We remind all those in need of assistance, or other concerned friends and individuals, to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: