|Cindy Dyer, Director, Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.|
he Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) is a component of the U.S. Department of Justice that provides national leadership in responding to crimes of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. As part of this mission, the OVW administers financial and technical assistance to communities around the country to facilitate the creation of programs, policies, and practices aimed at addressing these crimes. For example, since 1997, the OVW has worked collaboratively with the IACP to provide critical training and technical assistance for law enforcement officers to respond to violence against women.
Domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking are complex crimes whose investigation requires the dedication and commitment of law enforcement officers around the country. The resources and the energy that officers have dedicated to this cause continue to make a difference in the lives of thousands of women each day. October is designated as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and it affords us a unique opportunity to assess how far the United States has come in combating violence against women while creating safer communities.
In recognition of the severity of these crimes, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. VAWA authorized several grant programs designed to help states, local governments, and nonprofit organizations combat violent crimes against women.
The largest of these grant programs, called the Services, Training, Officers, and Prosecutors Violence Against Women Grant Program (STOP Program), was amended in 2005. Specifically, Congress added two new certification requirements that directly affect the law enforcement community. One new requirement ensures that every sexual assault victim receives access to a free forensic examination regardless of whether the victim is prepared to report the crime to a law enforcement agency. Under this provision, to be eligible for STOP funds, states must ensure that victims have access to a forensic exam free of charge or with full reimbursement. This new provision ensures that a victim of sexual assault receives timely medical treatment and that evidence is not lost without requiring the victim to make the immediate decision of whether to initiate a police report. The OVW encourages jurisdictions facing the many challenges of implementing new laws, policies, and practices to work collectively not only to comply with the forensic examination requirement but also to ensure that these changes will be to the victims’ benefit.
Another STOP certification requirement provides that no law enforcement officer shall ask or require a victim of an alleged sex offense to submit to a polygraph examination or other truth-telling device as a condition for proceeding with the investigation of such an offense. Asking a victim to submit to a polygraph is potentially intimidating and damages the victim’s—and the community’s—trust in the law enforcement process while reducing the opportunity for agencies to investigate sexual assault crimes successfully.
To be eligible for STOP formula funds, states must certify that they are in compliance with these new provisions of VAWA 2005 by January 5, 2009. The OVW is committed to assisting states in complying. More information on the STOP formula requirements is available on the OVW Web site at www.ovw.usdoj.gov.
Need for Partnership
The collective response to violence against women continues to evolve as the law enforcement community learns more about the needs of victims. Before coming to the OVW, I served as a specialized family violence and sexual assault prosecutor for 14 years. As a former prosecutor, I was fortunate to enjoy a successful partnership with the police department in my own community. Partnerships between local agencies and local prosecutors, as well as a coordinated community response, are imperative as the United States confronts crimes of violence against women. On behalf of the OVW, I encourage all police leaders to renew existing relationships and seek out new ones within their own departments, with local prosecutor’s offices, and with victim advocacy programs. The OVW is grateful for agencies’ commitment, response, and assistance to victims. Working together, the OVW and the law enforcement community can be formidable opponents to perpetrators of these crimes. ■
From The Police Chief, vol. LXXV, no. 10, October 2008. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.