Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks at the National Crime Victims’ Service Awards Ceremony

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks at the National Crime Victims’ Service Awards Ceremony

Good afternoon. Good afternoon. Thank you, Amy [Solomon], for that kind introduction, and for your leadership of the Office of Justice Programs. And thank you to you and your team, Kris [Rose].

We would not be here today without the dedicated professionals of the Office for Victims of Crime and the Office of Justice Programs. You planned today’s event, and you do extraordinary work every day on behalf of the American people. Thank you.

I am happy to be joined today by the Justice Department’s leadership team, Deputy Attorney General Monaco and Associate Attorney General Gupta.

We are all here because we know that our nation’s justice systems could not function without victims’ services providers.

Empowering and encouraging people who have been victimized to participate in our legal system is essential to justice.

Demonstrating to the victims of crimes that we hear them and see them — and earning their trust in our work — is essential to upholding the rule of law.

The theme of this year’s National Crime Victims’ Rights Week is rights, access, and equity. That theme underscores the importance of helping crime survivors find justice by enforcing victims’ rights, expanding access to services, and ensuring equity and inclusion for all.

We are honored to be here to announce the recipients of this year’s National Crime Victims’ Service Awards, and to recognize the recipients of the National Crime Victims’ Services Awards for 2020 and 2021.

These honorees — like the hundreds of other victim advocates and allied professionals here today — are true public servants.

You are there for crime victims at every step of the way.

You provide compassion and care in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy.

You help victims navigate the maze of legal proceedings for months or years on end.

And you support victims long after a case reaches a disposition and lawyers like us leave the courtroom.

This year’s honorees represent many aspects of the victims’ services field.

The honorees include health care professionals who have dedicated themselves to providing the care, support, and compassion that victims of sexual violence deserve.

One of the honorees personally and single-handedly continued in-person services, court accompaniments, and hotline calls to support domestic violence victims when the pandemic hit.

Two of the honorees are themselves survivors of assault, abuse, and exploitation who turned their painful experiences into making a difference in the lives of other victims.

Together, all of these honorees represent the very best of who and what we all strive to be as public servants.

At the Justice Department, we are putting our resources to work to support victim advocates, fund victim assistance programs, and put victims at the center of our efforts to carry out the Department’s mission of upholding the rule of law.

As expressed in the Justice Department’s recent Agency Equity Plan, we are taking Department-wide steps that we hope will improve access to Department services for underserved communities — particularly those disproportionately likely to be victims of crime.

In 2021, our Office for Victims of Crime awarded more than $1 billion to fund victim services. Those include mental health counseling, legal assistance, and victim advocates, enabling over 11,000 victim assistance programs to reach over 10 million survivors. This year, we are continuing that work.

Our Office for Victims of Crime is releasing several new solicitations to expand access to services for those who have been historically underrepresented and underserved.

And across the Department, we are enhancing our capacity to prevent and prosecute human trafficking cases and protect and support human trafficking victims.

The Justice Department worked hard to advance the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which finally occurred earlier this year.

As it has since VAWA was first enacted, our Office on Violence Against Women is using every resource at its disposal to prevent and respond to gender-based violence, provide critical services for survivors, and support victim service providers.

Our budget for the next fiscal year is seeking a total of $1 billion for the Office on Violence Against Women —  an increase of 74% above the FY22 enacted level.

We know that survivors are more likely to seek services from organizations that are familiar with their culture, language, and background. That is why the Office on Violence Against Women is prioritizing and piloting programs for organizations that provide culturally specific and community-based support for survivors.

We are also centering victims in our Tribal justice work. Native American communities have long endured disproportionate rates of violence. In October, the Department launched a steering committee to address the crisis of missing or murdered indigenous people.

The first priority for that steering committee is developing “strategies for supporting victims and their loved ones.”

Whether we are addressing gun violence, combatting fraud and exploitation, or supporting the survivors of sexual assault — victims and their rights are at the center of our efforts.

This commitment to victims also requires an understanding of just how far-reaching the effects of one criminal act can be.

Hate crimes are an important example. We know that  in addition to the targeted victim — hate crimes inflict terror and fear on entire communities.

That is why the Department is taking a holistic approach to confronting unlawful acts of hate by supporting not only direct victims but entire communities.

A broad and deep understanding of victims’ rights is essential to our ability to carry out the Department’s mission. And without the committed work of crime victims’ service providers, carrying out that mission would be impossible.

All of us in this work understand that the experience of crime victims is often so much more than a single incident or moment in time.

To be a victim of crime can mean a life-altering and sometimes life- shattering experience that endures long after the crime is over.

Last week marked the 27th anniversary of the day a domestic terrorist bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, taking the lives of 168 people, including 19 children, and seriously injuring hundreds of others.

As the Justice Department’s lead prosecutor on that case, I arrived at the scene 48 hours after the bombing.

Broken glass and crumbled bricks were everywhere.

The front of the building had collapsed and fallen into a crater.

An army of first responders was sifting through the rubble for survivors and the dead. And everyone was crying.

The prosecutors met with family members and survivors. We listening to their concerns. We held frequent briefings to keep everyone updated. We went to the memorial service together.

We treated them as we would have wanted our own families to be treated.

And that is really at the core of what all of you do: you treat people the way you would want someone you love to be treated if something terrible happened to them.

You do this when tragedy strikes an entire community. And you do this when tragedy strikes individuals.

You help people and communities endure unimaginable loss and heal from unspeakable harm. You do this despite the exceptionally long days and the emergency calls in the middle of the night.

You are nothing short of heroic. I am in awe of you.

Thank you for being with us today. I will now turn the program over to Deputy Attorney General Monaco.

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