Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco speaks at the Access to Justice for Victims of Sexual Harassment, Assault and Misconduct event | Takeover bid
Good afternoon, everyone. It is my pleasure to welcome you to this event as part of National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. Thank you to Kristen Clarke, Assistant Attorney General for our Civil Rights Division; to Allison Randall, Senior Deputy Director of our Office on Violence Against Women; and the dedicated teams of both components for bringing us together for this important conversation.
The ministry is committed to expanding access to justice for survivors, holding perpetrators accountable, and strengthening our response to sexual assault and sexual harassment.
We recently celebrated a milestone in these efforts: the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, which was signed into law by President Biden last month.
I worked on the original VAWA legislation as a Senate staffer in the 1990s. This legislation, and especially for the first time, recognized among other things that sexual harassment, assault and misconduct often goes unreported and, even when reported, they often arouse doubt and disbelief, especially for victims from marginalized communities.
VAWA has, however, proven that legislation can make a real difference in people’s lives, and it has helped change the national discourse on sexual assault and domestic violence. However, we already knew there was still a lot of work to do, and the new tools and resources included in this year’s reauthorization are essential to modernizing our efforts to prevent and end these crimes. This includes essential new tools to combat sexual misconduct through our civil rights laws.
Prior to VAWA’s reauthorization, most sexual assaults committed under the guise of the law were misdemeanors punishable by less than a year in prison. And because these offenses disproportionately affect women, including transgender women, it has left much of the population without a way to fully claim their rights.
VAWA has also brought parity to sentencing by making sexual assaults a felony, with penalties commensurate with the egregious nature of the misconduct.
The VAWA also closed a major loophole in federal law, making it a crime of strict liability for federal law enforcement officers to engage in sexual behavior with those in their custody. In other words, the VAWA now codifies into law what should always have been obvious: there is no “consent” to sexual acts between federal agents and those detained in their custody.
During today’s conversation, Assistant Attorney General Clarke will tell you more about how changes to VAWA are strengthening our ability to advocate for victims’ rights, as well as important enforcement initiatives. that the Civil Rights Division prosecutes in the workplace, in public educational institutions, in housing complexes, and in prisons and other state-operated facilities.
Of course, in addition to our work to hold abusers accountable, the ministry also provides essential services that support the healing and safety of survivors of sexual assault.
Our Office on Violence Against Women provides critical funding for projects and programs that meaningfully and compassionately address sexual violence. OVW’s Sexual Assault Services program, for example, reaches all states and territories and supports rape crisis centers and other programs that provide services to victims and their families. This funding is essential to provide victims of sexual assault with the health care they need after the assault and to gather evidence of their sexual assault.
During today’s event, we look forward to sharing in more detail how OVW, the Civil Rights Division, and the entire Department of Justice are committed to redressing sexual harassment, assault and misconduct. We appreciate your joining us for this important discussion. Thank you.