As U.S. attorney, I am charged with leading the federal response to our most pressing criminal problems.
We have spent considerable resources in the fights against the opioid epidemic and violent crime in western Pennsylvania. Together with our state and local law enforcement partners, we prosecuted a record number of drug dealers and violent criminals last year, and we have witnessed significant decreases in overdose deaths and in violent crime rates.
But as we in law enforcement know, no strategy to combat violent crime is complete without addressing domestic violence.
Domestic violence touches every community in Pennsylvania. Every day, domestic violence hotlines receive more than 21,000 calls, or 15 calls per minute. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates that 1 in 3 women in the United States has experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner.
In Pennsylvania, more than 1,170 domestic violence victims were killed from 2009 to 2018. Each of those numbers is another tragedy for an individual, a family and a community.
We all know a person whose life has been touched by this tragedy. I am no different.
On Nov. 18, 2010, Rebecca “Becky” Patterson Bibart – mother of two beautiful children, a brilliant and charismatic educator and one of my oldest and dearest friends – was killed by her husband in their home.
Becky and I grew up together in Greenville, Pennsylvania, a small blue-collar town in Mercer County. We took virtually every class, and attended every school and community event together from kindergarten on. She was smart and kind and lit up every room she was in.
Becky was among the top students of our high school class, studied English and education at Wittenberg University, and became an English teacher in public schools in California and Pennsylvania. She was a dynamic educator whose students adored her.
In 2010, Becky had been going through a difficult separation from her husband. While Becky had not been subjected to physical abuse until that last, fateful day, what we friends didn’t know was that she had suffered extensive emotional and psychological abuse from her husband.
At the end of September, Becky filed for divorce; she wanted a new life for her and her children. But on Nov. 18, 2010, her husband stole that opportunity from Becky and her children forever.
During my time as U.S. attorney, I have been deeply touched by the stories domestic violence survivors have shared with me. I have spoken at domestic violence awareness events, together with domestic violence advocates throughout western Pennsylvania. I have spoken with federal, state and local law enforcement leaders about our collective law enforcement response.
And through these conversations, one thing became clear: the Department of Justice needs to do more.
In June of this year, Attorney General William Barr formed the Department of Justice’s first-ever Domestic Violence Working Group.
Our goal is to lead a national conversation about domestic violence, to share best practices among federal, state and local partners, and to bring a renewed focus on prosecuting domestic violence abusers federally.
While most domestic violence cases are handled by state and local authorities, there are certain federal laws that we believe can be impactful, as we seek to find the inflection point at which federal action can prevent domestic violence-related fatalities.
One of our most powerful tools in fighting violent crime are federal firearms laws.
Federal law prohibits anyone convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence crime or against whom a final protection from abuse (PFA) order has been entered from possessing a firearm. Knowing that the presence of a firearm during a domestic violence incident increases the risk of homicide by more than 500%, we are committed to assisting state and local officials in identifying and prosecuting those abusers who should not have guns in the first place.
Additionally, we know that abusers increasingly use technology and social media to maintain control through identity theft, hacking, cyberstalking, sextortion and other forms of cybercrime.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI’s Pittsburgh field office have some of the most experienced and sophisticated cyber investigators and prosecutors in the country. We will leverage our extensive expertise in cybercrime to domestic violence threats and will seek to prosecute this type of domestic violence-related cybercrime federally.
Monday marks the ninth anniversary of Becky’s death.
When friends from Greenville High School’s Class of 1987 get together, as we did several weeks ago, we invariably talk about Becky – both the remarkable woman and friend that she was, and that day in 2010 that changed our lives forever.
While October was a critical month for raising awareness, know that the Department of Justice is engaged on this issue every month of the year. As U.S. attorney, my goal is to protect every person in western Pennsylvania from domestic violence, because every man, woman and child deserves to be safe in our homes.