Thank you so much. I am so pleased to join you all here in Charleston Medical University of South Carolina – to be on the ground with Dr. Saladin and Dr. Kilpatrick and their fantastic teams. My thanks to them, and to all the experts, researchers, practitioners, and professionals who help power the National Mass Violence Victimization Resource Center.
And of course, thank you to my amazing colleague, Kris Rose, who is leading the Justice Department’s work on behalf of crime victims across America. She is backed by an outstanding group of talented and compassionate professionals who care deeply about crime victims and survivors, and who work hard, every day, to support those who serve them.
The Office for Victims of Crime drives the Department’s work on behalf of victims, and I am proud of the investments they are making in communities to bring healing and justice to survivors. I am especially grateful for the way Kris and her team bring victims’ voices into the conversation – something that I know is also done here through the work of the Center.
Victims’ perspectives form the foundation of the Helping Victims of Mass Violence and Terrorism Toolkit, which OVC published eight years ago to help communities respond to victims quickly, effectively, and compassionately. I was pleased to learn that the Center will be updating the toolkit to ensure it reflects the most timely information and the many lessons learned since it was first published.
I also want to assure you that the Office of Justice Programs is centering victims voices in everything that we do – across the organization – in our support for law enforcement, in our work with children and youth, in our community violence intervention efforts. The concerns of victims are at the very heart of our programs and policies. And because we know that mass violence brings extraordinary challenges – in both scope and character – we are enlisting resources across the agency to strengthen our response.
For example, two years ago, our Bureau of Justice Assistance partnered with the International Association of Chiefs of Police to launch the Mass Violence Advisory Initiative to provide peer-to-peer assistance to law enforcement leaders in the aftermath of an incident of mass violence.
In addition to on-the-ground assistance, we are working to better understand mass violence – who commits these crimes and why, what are the identifiers and warning signs, and what are the unique needs of survivors? This is the kind of research being supported by our National Institute of Justice. Over the last decade, NIJ has sponsored a dozen-and-a-half studies on mass shootings and mass casualty events. And we are drawing important lessons from these efforts that will serve communities and responders well. One theme underscored by the research – a theme that I know is embraced by the Center here – is the importance of community preparation. NIJ with RAND have mined the research to develop a Mass Attacks Defense Toolkit that advances efforts in the detection and mitigation of mass violence.
Of course, we wish for a world without violence and victimization. Our north star is to prevent these events altogether. But until then, we are so fortunate to be working with the National Mass Violence Victimization Resource Center. With funding from our Office for Victims of Crime, the Center is working with partners across the country – first responders with direct experience, researchers who are studying the impact of mass violence on survivors and communities, and survivors themselves, who can speak as no one else can to the immeasurable pain. They too can also show us where to find remarkable reserves of strength and resilience.
Over the last six years, the Center has compiled lessons learned from mass tragedies here in Charleston and in other cities. It has provided victim-centered training and on-the-ground consultation for first responders and service providers. It has conducted research and evaluation to help understand the physical, psychological, and emotional impact of mass victimization. It is supporting a network of resiliency centers in communities affected by mass violence. It has even created a mobile app that provides resources tailored to the unique needs of survivors of these horrific, large-scale tragedies.
This critical work has put us in a better position to respond to the grave contingencies of mass violence. Which is why I am very pleased to announce that the Department of Justice is awarding almost $9 million to the Medical University of South Carolina to advance the important mission of the National Mass Violence Victimization Resource Center.
This new grant from the Office for Victims of Crime will continue the center’s vital work by expanding out foundation of evidence-based practices centered on addressing the behavioral health needs of survivors. It will enable the center to provide more training and site-based assistance, including community-based learning collaboratives that will help strengthen emergency response strategies. And it will support a national conference to convene experts and stakeholders to share best practices.
As the center has done all along, it will build on the lessons we have learned here in Charleston and in other communities, enlarging our store of resources and building our communities’ capacity for resilience.
This substantial new investment in addressing mass violence is a major part of our strategy for supporting all crime victims. The Office for Victims of Crime funds thousands of victim assistance programs across the country, but we know that many victims still encounter barriers that prevent them from accessing critical services, and some may not even be aware that the help is available. In addition to supporting the Mass Violence Victimization Resource Center, this year we are awarding almost $1.8 billion to support state victim assistance an compensation programs and help expand access to victim services across the country.
These awards will help provide victim-centered, trauma-informed, and culturally responsive services, and they will bring support to historically underserved communities and those disproportionately impacted by crime and violence. Grants will also help us reach human trafficking survivors, better serve American Indian and Alaska Native victims, and build the capacity of victim service programs to meet the need of crime victims who come through their doors.
I’m very pleased that the Department of Justice is able to provide these resources to America’s communities – to support our partners in the difficult and essential work that they do on behalf of crime victims in every corner of our country.
We are – each and every one of us, and in each our own way – entrusted with a sacred responsibility: To bring relief, deliver justice, and restore hope. These are not light duties. The work we are doing, the work you are doing – meets each of these solemn obligations. On behalf of all of us at the Department of Justice, I am grateful for all that you do for victims, for survivors of mass violence, and for communities throughout America.