Attorney General Merrick Garland And United States Attorney Roger Handberg Recognize Middle District Of Florida Awardee Gail Frances Gardner For Advocacy On Behalf Of Crime Victims And Commemorate National Crime Victims’ Rights Week

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FILE PHOTO: Signage is seen at the United States Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON – Attorney General Merrick B. Garland today awarded the Special Courage Award to Gail Frances Gardner of Ocoee, Florida for her advocacy on behalf of crime victims. Ms. Gardner was among 14 individuals and teams from across the country who were honored for their work. The award recipients were recognized virtually during the annual National Crime Victims’ Service Awards Ceremony, as part of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. This year’s theme—rights, access, equity, for all victims—underscores the importance of enforcing victims’ rights, expanding access to services, and ensuring equity and inclusion for all. By guaranteeing that equitable, inclusive, and culturally responsive services and meaningful compensation are available to survivors, the Department helps all victims find the justice and healing they seek.

“Empowering and encouraging people who have been victimized to participate in our legal system is essential to justice,” said Attorney General Garland. “For the past 41 years, the Department of Justice has recognized the challenges, struggles and achievements of crime victims and victim advocates in their efforts to secure the rights, access and equal justice that all survivors deserve.  I am pleased to congratulate this year’s honorees on their selection for these distinguished awards and extend my deepest gratitude for their continued work.”

In 1988, Ms. Gardner, a single mother, was raped by an unknown perpetrator during a home invasion. Her case remained open for more than 30 years, but with the advancement in DNA testing and a 2016 law that mandated testing the backlog of sexual assault kits, she finally learned the identity of her attacker, a serial rapist known as “the Malibu rapist” who was already serving a life sentence for another sexual assault. Through DNA testing, he was connected to 26 additional sexual assaults. Ms. Gardner is the namesake for Florida’s Gail’s Law, recently enacted legislation requiring sexual assault evidence kit tracking via a database designed to keep victims aware of the status of evidence in their case throughout the testing process. State law now requires kits to be submitted for testing within 30 days and that laboratories process them within 120 days. Ms. Gardner advocates for social justice on behalf of survivors of sexual abuse and domestic violence who struggle with addiction or arrest after their victimization, and has helped to bring the topic of sexual assault out into the open.

“This week affords us the opportunity to recognize and honor the perseverance, innovation, and unyielding commitment of our victim service providers and the strength and resilience of crime victims,” said U.S. Attorney Handberg. “We congratulate Ms. Gardner on her award and thank her for her courage and dedication as an advocate for survivors of sexual assault in Florida and across the country. This week, we celebrate Ms. Gardner’s achievement, as well as the advancement of victims’ rights in the criminal justice system.”

Ms. Gardner and the other award recipients were selected from public nominations in 10 categories, including federal service, public policy, victim services and a Special Courage award. The Office for Victims of Crime, a component of the Department’s Office of Justice Programs, leads communities across the country in observing National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. President Ronald Reagan proclaimed the first Victims’ Rights Week in 1981, placing crime victims’ rights, needs, and concerns in a prominent spot on the American agenda. He also established the President’s Task Force on Victims of Crime, which laid the groundwork for a national network of services and legal safeguards for crime victims.

“This time every year, we honor and remember victims of crime, not only for the trauma that they have endured and the adversity they have encountered, but also for their courage and resilience and for paving the way toward justice and healing for countless other survivors across the country,” said Amy L. Solomon, Principal Deputy Attorney General for OJP. “These extraordinary individuals and teams embody an ethic of service and compassion that distinguishes them from an already exceptional field of victim-serving professionals. We join the Attorney General in expressing our deepest appreciation for providing crime victims—all crime victims—a place to turn in their time of need.”

Following is a list of the 2022 NCVRW award recipients:

  • The Allied Professional Award recognizes individuals working outside the victim assistance field for their service to victims. Recipients:  Deborah Flowers, Pittsboro, North Carolina and Dr. Linda Laras, Caguas, Puerto Rico

 

  • The Award for Professional Innovation in Victim Services recognizes a program, organization or individual who expands the reach of victims’ rights and services. Recipients: Barrier Free Living, Bronx, New York and LGBTQ+ Victim Advocacy Initiative at Eskenazi Health, Indianapolis, Indiana

 

  • The Financial Restoration Award recognizes individuals, programs, organizations, or teams that have instituted innovative approaches for securing financial restoration for crime victims. Recipient: Asset Forfeiture Unit and Financial Litigation Program in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Tennessee, Nashville. 

 

  • The Victims Research Award recognizes individual researchers or research teams who made a significant contribution to the nation’s understanding of crime victim issues. Recipient: John Chapin, Ph.D., Monaca, Pennsylvania

 

  • The Crime Victims’ Rights Award honors the dedicated champions throughout our nation whose efforts to advance or enforce crime victims’ rights have benefited victims of crime at the state, tribal, or national level. Recipient: Derek Marchman, Conyers, Georgia

 

  • The Federal Service Award recognizes federal agency personnel for service to victims of federal, tribal, or military crimes. Recipient: Environmental Crime Victim Assistance Team, Washington, D.C.

 

  • The National Crime Victim Service Award honors extraordinary efforts to provide direct services to crime victims. Recipient: Brenda J. Muhammad, Atlanta, Georgia and Michelle L. Shae, Abbottstown, Pennsylvania

 

  • The Ronald Wilson Reagan Public Policy Award honors leadership, innovation, and vision that lead to noteworthy changes in public policy on behalf of crime victims. Recipient: The Every Voice Coalition, Boston, Massachusetts

 

  • The Special Courage Award honors extraordinary bravery in the aftermath of a crime or courageous act on behalf of a victim or potential victim. Recipients: Gail Frances Gardner, Ocoee, Florida and Suamhirs Piraino-Guzman, Seattle, Washington.

 

  • The Volunteer for Victims Award recognizes individuals who serve without compensation. Recipient: Linda Stambaugh, Newell, South Dakota

 

“The Office for Victims of Crime works every day to support victims in every corner of our country, ensuring that no crime survivor feels voiceless, marginalized or alone,” said Kristina Rose, Director of OVC. “Through their tireless work, boundless capacity for empathy and fierce devotion to justice, these award recipients have made it possible for victims to find their voice and to begin, with a feeling of hope, the long journey toward healing.”

During National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, victim advocacy organizations, community groups and state, local and tribal agencies traditionally host rallies, candlelight vigils and other events to raise awareness of victims’ rights and services. This year, many communities are organizing virtual gatherings and online public awareness campaigns.

To see the complete list of awardees and learn more about past NCVRW recipients, visit the OVC gallery.