Over the past 20 years, the percentage of victims of rape and sexual assault who reported the assault to the police has increased from 28.8 percent in 1993 to 50 percent today. This is both an indication of how far we’ve come and a reminder of how far we have to go.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, and it is a time to reflect on the tremendous achievements we have made since the passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) 18 years ago. Sexual assault and rape affect people of every background, ethnicity, age, ability or sexual orientation. Nearly 1 in 5 (18.3 percent) women and 1 in 71 (1.4 percent) men in the United States have been raped at some time in their lives, translating into 22 million women and 1.6 million men.
The Violence Against Women Act changed the way this nation meets our responsibility to sur-vivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. The Justice Department applauds the recent bipartisan reauthorization of the act, which was signed in March.
Reauthorization expanded the historic legislation that defends the rights of all victims and survivors. The new tribal pro-visions are of particular import-ance to the Justice Department. The act closes jurisdictional gaps that had long compromised American Indian and Alaska Native women’s safety and access to justice. This change supports the sovereignty of tribes and holds perpetrators accountable — a necessary step to reducing violence against native women.
Reauthorization also ensures that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender survivors have access to the services they need and deserve, enables victims in publicly subsidized housing to stay safe and adds protections for college students who have some of the highest rates of rape in the nation.
Across the federal govern-ment, we are working to support survivors and to prevent sexual violence. Last year, the Justice Department modernized the definition of rape used to collect our nation’s crime statistics. This year, the department is working with law enforcement agencies to implement this change and develop new guidelines for investigating sexual assault cases.
It is only in working together that we can make a difference and save lives, and the Justice Department will continue to take every possible step to enforce laws protecting victims of violence and to provide resources to aid victim service providers.
Barry Grissom is the U.S. attorney for the District of Kansas.