Below is a farewell message from outgoing Director of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), Cindy Dyer:
Dear Friends,
This month marks the end of my tenure serving you as Director of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW). It has been an incredible honor to lead this office in raising awareness and providing national leadership on issues related to stalking, domestic violence, sexual assault, and dating violence.
My desire to reach out to you for input on improving our country’s response to violence and abuse was rooted in my experience as a specialized domestic violence and sexual assault prosecutor. One year later, I am proud to report on the progress of our top priorities.
Many of our partners noted a startling trend emerging all over the country: battered women losing custody of their children to state protection authorities or to batterers. Last summer I convened a roundtable of experts from around the country to explore the intersection of custody and domestic violence. I directed the office to develop and explore ways to equip communities to assist victims with custody disputes and prevent the negative consequences of giving custody to abusers. OVW will continue to provide updates on this initiative and policies as they are implemented.
Last April I vowed to renew OVW’s commitment to ending sexual violence. As a result, OVW will launch the Sexual Assault Services Program this spring. I am also pleased to announce OVW will launch a Sexual Assault Demonstration Initiative in partnership with the National Institute of Justice, the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center to enhance services for victims of sexual assault through dual domestic violence/sexual assault programs. This Initiative will provide a strong foundational response and spur promising practices to end sexual violence.
We worked to establish new relationships with partners abroad and expand our mutual understanding of issues facing women around the globe. The United States recognized sexual violence in conflict zones as a security concern, which was affirmed at the UN Security Council Thematic Debate on Women, Peace, and Security last year. OVW presented at the International Family Justice Center Conference in England, showcased the work of our field partners at the UN Crime Commission in a forum of over 40 countries, and brought our experiences fighting violence against women to women’s organizations in Africa. We created remarkable connections across borders and oceans and look forward to the day when women can live in a world free of violence.
I also recognize that American Indian and Alaska Native women suffer rates of violence, stalking, and sexual assault at extreme rates. I remained committed to OVW’s efforts to enhance victim safety and develop education and prevention strategies. In addition to our policy priorities, we continued to enable States, Tribes, and local communities to enforce protection orders, provide legal assistance and other services to victims, provide intensive training to police officers, prosecutors, and judges, and support local efforts in their response to violence against women.
Upon my departure, Deputy Director Catherine Pierce, a 15-year OVW veteran, will assume leadership responsibilities. I place my full faith and confidence in her and OVW staff to continue leading this office and working with all of us to end violence against women.
I have learned much through my extensive travels and meetings with grantees and site visits, in the U.S. and abroad. I have seen first-hand how your work significantly impacts the lives of women everyday.
I leave you with words of the great American leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. whose memory and contribution to our country will be celebrated in the coming days. He once said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
I want to thank the dedicated staff at OVW as well as each of you for your tireless efforts to eradicate violence in the pursuit of justice for all. Too often victims suffer in secret and in silence. You make it safer for them to step out of the shadows and get the help and the support they need. Please know your compassion is saving lives. I am humbled by your work and I am inspired by your passion!
Cindy Dyer
Director, Office on Violence Against Women
U.S. Department of Justice