Saturday, October 31, 2015

Honoring Domestic Violence Awareness Month 2015

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM), an opportunity to pause as a nation and collectively reflect on the dynamics and impact of interpersonal violence; to recognize the lived experiences of women and men who have been victimized at the hands of an intimate partner; and, to celebrate the strength and will of survivors.

DVAM, however, is more than a time to spread awareness.

Domestic violence affects millions of Americans, including 1 in 4 women in their lifetime.  With a problem of this scale, the month of October is a reminder of the work that’s been done – and which still remains – to end the violence and to prevent future generations from experiencing its harmful effects.  DVAM is a call to action.  Indeed, in the 2015 National Domestic Violence Awareness Month Proclamation, President Obama affirms:

    “Safeguarding and opening doors of opportunity for every American will remain a driving focus for our country – and we know that crimes like domestic violence inhibit our Nation from reaching its fullest potential. This month, let us once again pledge our unwavering support to those in need and recognize the advocates, victim service providers, and organizations who work tirelessly to extend hope and healing to survivors and victims every day.”

Over the last 20 years, the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) has supported the efforts of those on the front lines to answer the call.  After the enactment of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) on September 13, 1994, OVW was created the following year and tasked with leading the Federal government in helping communities to implement this groundbreaking legislation.   Specifically, OVW administers grant programs and provides training and technical assistance for criminal justice agencies, victim service organizations, and other state, local, and tribal entities to combat not only domestic violence, but also sexual assault, dating violence, sex trafficking, and stalking. 

Highlights from this past year alone demonstrate the unique ways in which OVW’s financial and technical assistance offer opportunities for communities to develop, strengthen, and sustain their anti-violence efforts:

    In honor of VAWA’s 20th anniversary, last October OVW embarked on a year-long national tour, meeting with advocates, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, healthcare professionals, and other leaders across the country to learn more about their initiatives to curb domestic and sexual violence.  OVW gathered vital information about the impact of VAWA funding as well as both victories and challenges communities experience in addressing violence.

    The tour inspired robust dialogue with stakeholders on a wide range of issues, including the importance of assessing and improving the coordinated community response – a cornerstone of effective violence prevention.  In addition, persistent service needs were identified, such as: safe and affordable housing options for survivors, more victim-centered legal services, trauma-informed approaches within healthcare settings, and culturally-specific services with an understanding of the distinct ways in which domestic violence impacts vulnerable populations, such as women of color, those living in poverty, LGBT individuals, and women with disabilities.

    Momentum around implementation of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA 2013) accelerated over the last year, prompting a need for additional OVW response.

    In April, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) proposed a rule to implement the VAWA 2013 protections in nearly all HUD programs. The final rule will more adequately support victims desiring to leave their abusers by reducing fear of homelessness and housing discrimination. OVW has provided input on the proposed rule and will collaborate with grantees and other stakeholders to support effective implementation of the final rule.

    In March, another VAWA 2013 provision took effect that increases protection for Native women by recognizing a “special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction” over persons who commit this crime in Indian country.  Tribes now have the authority to charge and prosecute all offenders who commit acts of domestic violence on their lands. In DOJ’s upcoming Violence Against Women Tribal Consultation in November, this critical provision and related topics concerning violence against Native women will be discussed.

    OVW funding supported the development of several comprehensive online resources for advocates, service providers, policymakers, and others this year.

    This summer, OVW announced The Center for Changing Our Campus Culture [external link], a clearinghouse on domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking for institutions of higher education.  The website provides the latest information, materials, and resources for administrators, faculty and staff, law enforcement, victim service providers, students, parents and others invested in improving campus safety and the wellbeing of college and university students.

    Just last month, the Vera Institute of Justice unveiled the first website dedicated to ending abuse against people with disabilities [external link]. Through various tools and guidance, the site seeks to raise awareness of these often “invisible victims,” enhance services for survivors with disabilities, and connect those advocating for this population.

Finally, OVW grant support is playing a key role in realizing an improved criminal justice response to crimes like domestic violence and sexual assault.  OVW released a $2.8 million funding opportunity for a Sexual Assault Justice Initiative to improve prosecutions and the justice system’s overall handling of sexual assault cases.  Additionally, over $26 million in OVW grants were recently awarded to strengthen arrest policies, enforcement of protection orders, and partnerships between criminal justice agencies and community-based organizations striving to improve victim safety and offender accountability.

As the President reminds us, “Though we have made great progress in bringing awareness to and providing protections against domestic violence, much work remains to be done.” This October, OVW joins its Federal and community partners in looking back at our successes while also marching forward to continue the momentum.  Month to month, step by step, we can change our culture and break the cycle of violence for good.

Chapel Hill Rape Suspect Arrested by U.S. Marshals in Carrboro

Greensboro, NC – On July 11, 2015, the Chapel Hill Police Department responded to a reported sexual assault that took place in the area of 100 East Franklin Street. Upon arrival, authorities located a female victim that reported she was assaulted by an acquaintance. The victim was immediately transported to the UNC Hospital for medical evaluation. On September 29, 2015, a warrant for arrest was issued for David Michael Edwards Jr., a 26 year old, for Second Degree Rape by the Chapel Hill Police Department.

Yesterday, at approximately 6:00 PM, Edwards was arrested by members of the U.S. Marshals Joint Fugitive Task Force (JFTF). Through investigative efforts, members of the JFTF developed and verified the information leading to Edwards’ arrest. Surveillance was conducted by the JFTF in the vicinity of 300 East Main Street in Carrboro. Members of the JFTF positively identified Edwards as he was walking out of a building. The JFTF surrounded and converged on Edwards taking him into custody without incident. Edwards was transported to the Orange County Jail where he is being held on the alleged charges.

The U.S. Marshals Joint Fugitive Task Force for the Middle District of North Carolina is comprised of investigators from the U.S. Marshals Service, Chapel Hill Police Department, Durham Police Department, Greensboro Police Department, High Point Police Department, Winston-Salem Police Department, Alamance County Sheriff’s Office, the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, Orange County Sheriff’s Office and the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, Department of Community Corrections – Probation & Parole.

Defendant Convicted of Three Counts of Murder in Indian Country

Today, a man was convicted of three counts of murder in Indian country after a week-long jury trial, announced Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Mark F. Green of the Eastern District of Oklahoma.     

David Brian Magnan, 53, was convicted in the shooting deaths of three victims, James Howard, Karen Wolf and Lucilla McGirt, who were all members of the Seminole Nation.  U.S. District Court Judge Ronald A. White of the Eastern District of Oklahoma presided over the trial.  

The evidence presented at trial established that the victims were celebrating a birthday on the evening of March 1, 2004, at Howard’s home.  In the early morning hours of March 2, 2004, Magnan arrived at the home with two other men.  Armed with a pistol, Magnan confronted an individual outside of the house and a fight ensued, after which Magnan shot the individual in the abdomen.  Magnan then entered the home where he found the three victims asleep.  He first confronted Howard, who he shot multiple times in the chest as he lay in bed.  Magnan then moved to a bedroom where he found McGirt and Wolf sleeping.  Magnan shot Wolf in the head and shot McGirt in the shoulder and head.  McGirt survived that evening and identified Magnan as the shooter, but she ultimately succumbed to her wounds and died two weeks later.  Following the shootings, Magnan and the two other men fled the scene and hid the murder weapon, which police subsequently recovered.  

This case was investigated by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office, the Seminole Nation Lighthorse Police and the FBI.  The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Mike Sheckels of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Snow of the Eastern District of Oklahoma.  Trial Attorney Richard Friedman of the Criminal Division’s Appellate Section handled an interlocutory appeal.