Patty Murray

Domestic Violence Prevention Amendment - March 25, 2004

Patty Murray
March 25, 2004— U.S. Senate, Washington, DC
Congressional floor speech
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Mr. President, I am offering an amendment to help prevent violence against women and children. We’ve heard a lot of talk today about punishing abusers. Now its time to see who’s serious about preventing abuse in the first place. As someone who has spent my entire public life, talking with victims, visiting shelters, working with advocates and law enforcement, and funding the programs that victims rely on, I’m here to offer an amendment that will help women and children get the help they need to be safe and most importantly to save their lives. Endorsed by DV Advocates My amendment is built on what victims and experts have told me they need. That’s why my amendment has been endorsed by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Family Violence Prevention Fund. These organizations know what victims need, and they say the Murray Amendment will really help victims of violence. Named for Paul & Sheila Wellstone I am honored that my amendment is named for Paul and Sheila Wellstone, who were such champions for victims of domestic violence. Sen. Wellstone and I introduced legislation, which is today included in this amendment. Paul’s desk was just behind mine here on the Senate floor and I can still see him behind me – waving him arms – and making the case for people who have no voice. This amendment is a tribute to Paul and Sheila and the fight that we carry on for the millions of people who need a voice in the Senate. When Paul debated an issue, you always could tell who was really standing up for families and who was just talking. The vote on my amendment will reveal:

  • who is truly concerned about giving women and children the tools they need to escape violent relationships,
  • and who is more interested in playing politics and attempting to undermine women’s constitutional rights.

Any Senator who is truly concerned about the safety of women and children will join me and give battered women the support they need to escape violent relationships, before it is too late.

We’ll Hear Excuses

I’ve got a feeling that during this debate we’re going to hear a lot of excuses. Senators will stand up here and claim that preventing violence against women is somehow not relevant. Senators will stand up here with the talking points prepared by the Chamber of Commerce and say that protecting women from deadly abuse is somehow bad for business. We’re going to hear a lot of excuses, but I’ve got something stronger. I’ve got the actual stories of dozens of women who are being abused, who have escaped abuse, or who have been killed by their abuser. And those are the voices that need to be heard here on the Senate floor, not the talking points from the lobbyists and not the same old excuses from the very people who are cutting VAWA programs by $10 million. We’ve had enough of that, and we know where it’s gotten us:

  • 2 million women assaulted every year
  • Nearly 1 in 3 adult women are assaulted
  • 4.9 million intimate partner rapes and physical assaults
  • Thousands of women every year are killed by a spouse or boyfriend.

We know what all those excuses have produced: Women who are beaten, raped, and murdered. Some lobbyists want to bury my amendment. Well you know what -- we’ve had to bury enough people already. Let’s see who’s serious about helping prevent violence, and who’s just playing politics with the lives of battered women. Let me read a note received from an advocate for victims of abuse. She writes: “I have had many, many clients over the years who have come to me after they have been fired from work because they missed a day of work to go to court to get a civil protection order. In some of these instances, the women had sick days, but they were still fired. Several of these women were forced to return to their batterers after they lost their jobs because they lost her income and they and their children would have been homeless if they did not return.” These are some of the women who are trapped today and who desperately need our help.

**Bush’s Budget Cuts DV & VAWA Programs

**My amendment is especially important because the Bush Administration is cutting or freezing funding for critical DV programs. Every year about two million American women are sexually assaulted, stalked, or physically assaulted. Two million women every year. You would think that the White House would recognize the need to fund DV programs, but the Presidents’ latest budget offers more bad news to victims of violence. Let me give you a few examples.

  • The President’s budget cuts VAWA programs by $10 million.
  • It cuts a Justice Department rape prevention program by $29 million.
  • It freezes funding for the Domestic Violence Hotline.
  • And it freezes funding for Grants for Battered Women Shelters at precisely the time when we need increases because evidence shows that domestic violence increases during tough economic times.

So I find it ironic to be here today with a bill before that Senate that purports to help victims of domestic violence while it ignores all we know about preventing it. Anyone who’s talked with victims, advocates and law enforcement knows that domestic violence prevention requires more support not less. It’s clear that we need to help victims escape violent relationships and the Paul and Sheila Wellstone Domestic Violence Prevention Amendment will help.

Summary of My Amendment

My amendment does several things. It gives victims of abuse access to unemployment insurance if they have been forced to leave their job because of violence. It gives victims of violence access to expanded emergency leave so they can go to court or to the police to stop abuse. It protects victims from employment and insurance discrimination. It provides services for children who witness domestic violence so we can end the cycle of abuse. It helps health professionals screen for abuse and respond appropriately, and it gives victims better access to critical health care services. These are steps we need to take today, to protect the 2 million women who are sexually assaulted, stalked, or physically assaulted every year.

Relevance of My Amendment

Let me say a word about the relevance of my amendment. I expect that some Senators will come up here and claim that preventing violence against women is somehow not relevant to the bill we are debating. To them, it never seems to be the right time. There is always an excuse. In fact, these Senators are sending the message that victims are not relevant until they are dead. If any Senator wants to come down here and tell women across America that the abuse they face is not relevant, they will have to make that insulting claim alone, because I will keep fighting to get victims the help they need, to prosecute abusers, and to break the cycle of violence.

  • You tell a woman who’s being abused that she doesn’t deserve more help.
  • You tell a child who’s witnessing abuse every night that my amendment is unnecessary.

I won’t tell victims that, and my amendment gives them the real help they need. Victims of violence have heard a lot of excuses over the years. Claiming that their daily abuse is not relevant to this Senate debate is just another one of the excuses that have trapped women over the years. That claim is as insulting as it is false. Just look at the recent debate in the House of Representatives on the underlying bill. During that debate, every single anti-choice member who spoke referred to criminal acts of violence against women. Violence against women is a central part of this debate. Preventing violence against women and helping women and children who are being abused is central to this discussion. Opponents cannot have it both ways. They cannot claim that their bill is needed to address violence against women, and then claim that we should not debate ways to prevent violence against women. This amendment is clearly relevant and will truly help women and children. Anyone who wants to claim it is not relevant will have to answer to the victims to whom they are denying help. Either you’re serious about helping victims, or you’re playing politics and making excuses. Women and children who are being violently abused everyday deserve to know where Senators stand.

The Chamber of Commerce’s Claims

Members of Congress are certainly hearing from outside groups on this from groups that are not known for their advocacy on fighting domestic violence. Yesterday, senators received a letter from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, urging them to oppose this bill. Bill Josten, the Chamber’s Executive Vice President for Government Affairs, makes the Chamber’s case rather forcefully in his letter. He writes: “It is important to note as a preliminary matter that H.R. 1997 is clearly an inappropriate vehicle for this amendment as the issues involved are completely unrelated.” Unrelated? We’re dealing with a bill that claims to address the crime of violence against women, but an amendment that would actually prevent violence is unrelated according to the Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Josten goes on to write: “The ill-designed programs promise to impose significant costs on business – particularly small business.” So, the Chamber argues, that the cost of preventing further violence against women is too high to pay. In other words, preventing domestic violence and giving women the tools to escape from abusive relationships is bad for the bottom line.

The Cost of Domestic Violence on Businesses

Well, let’s for a minute, examine the economics of domestic violence. There are costs associated with allowing domestic violence to continue – not just for women – but for business. In 2002, economists Amy Farmer of the University of Arkansas and Jill Teifenthaler of Colgate University published a report on the economic impacts of domestic violence. They examined publicly-available studies performed in the U.S. including the annual National Crime Victimization Surveys, two Physical Violence in American Families Studies, and seven studies in The National Violence Against Women Survey. As Ms. Farmer explained: “Each study was intended to answer different questions, so the data sets have different strengths and weaknesses. When we incorporated these data into a single model of domestic violence, a different picture emerged than can be seen from any one study.” They found that absenteeism, tardiness, and turnover rates are all high among domestic abuse victims. Farmer’s research also concludes that domestic abuse may result in almost 7 million lost work days annually, reduced workplace productivity, increased insurance costs, and lower profits. The researchers also cite a 1995 Roper report, which found that 49% of the Fortune 100 executives surveyed believed that domestic violence hurt their company’s productivity, and 33 percent said it lowered their profits. So this is a problem that is real, and it has real costs for businesses. If you go to the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence, you can learn some other interesting facts about domestic violence and how it affects the bottom line. On their site, you find out that medical expenses from domestic violence cost businesses 3 to 5 billion dollars a year. Businesses are paying 3 to 5 billion dollars a year in healthcare for victims of domestic violence. You also learn that 94% of corporate security directors rank partner violence as a high security problem. They estimate that 75% of victims of domestic violence are harassed at work by their abuser. And here is a startling fact that they have on their website: Homicide is the number one leading cause of death on the job, and 20% of those murders were committed by their intimate partner at the workplace. What can we conclude from this? Domestic violence is bad for business. It has real and painful costs on employers. So for those members who want to weigh this measure on its economic merits – as the Chamber does – the facts are clear. Providing the tools that will allow abused women to escape abusive relationships can help offset billions of dollars in costs that domestic violence imposes on businesses.

Stories from Victims

But I hope my colleagues will consider more than the economics as they cast their vote. I hope you will consider the cost to the women and children who are the victims of domestic violence – the cost in pain – the cost in lives – and the pain and the life we can prevent by giving women the tools they need to escape abusive relationships. I’d like to share with my colleagues some of the stories of the women we are trying to help with this amendment. These stories were shared with me by a nationally-recognized advocate for DV victims.

Woman #1

Let me tell you a story about a woman had worked at a medium-sized organization for over a year as an administrative assistant. Her husband had been beating her on and off over the 15 years of their relationship. When things escalated, she missed work due to a severe beating. She called into work and was honest about what had happened. She came into work the next day and was told that she was fired. Her company told her they were afraid that her husband would come to the workplace and hurt her coworkers, although that had never happened before. She did not qualify for job-guaranteed leave under the FMLA because the company employed less than 50 employees, and -- arguably -- her injuries from the beating did not qualify as a serious health condition. That made her firing legal. If VESSA was in effect, she would have had access to job guaranteed leave, and or a provision prohibiting employers from discriminating against victims of domestic violence. She applied for and was denied unemployment insurance.

Woman #2

There’s another woman who worked as a hospital nurse. She had just left her batterer and was concerned that he might come to her workplace. She told her employer of her fears, and they fired her. She applied for unemployment insurance, but she was denied.

Woman #3

Abusers often contact employers to get a woman fired. One batterer called up the workplace and told them that his victim was HIV+. He then told the employer that the woman was a liar and that she was missing work so she could file a frivolous restraining order against him. The woman took an earned sick day off of work. When she returned to work, she was told that she was fired because she was a victim of domestic violence. If VESSA had been in place, this would have been illegal.

Woman #4

Here’s another story. A woman was assaulted by her batterer in the parking lot at her workplace. She was then fired for being in a fight.

Woman #5

Let me tell you about a woman who was strangled by her batterer. Her doctor told her to stay home from work for 5 days. She called in sick to work, but she was then fired because she didn't have enough vacation days, and she did not qualify for FMLA because her employer was too small.

Woman #6

Here is another example. One morning, a woman was getting ready to go to work. Her abuser came to her home with a gun. He told her that if she left the house, he would kill her. She was able to call the police. The police came to her home and arrested the batterer. She got a police report, and she called her workplace and explained why she was unable to come to work. The next day, she returned to work. There she was fired for missing work and was then denied unemployment insurance.

Woman #7

Let me tell you another story. One woman got a call at work from her abuser. Her coworker overheard the conversation. Then her employer took her aside and said that since she was dealing with so much she couldn't possibly continue to work for him. The employer fired the woman.

Woman #8

Here’s an example of what happens when a woman tried to go to court to get help. The woman told her employer that she was in a violent relationship and that she would need to take a day off from work to go to court to get a protection order. The employer seemed supportive and agreed, so she took the day off. The next day, when she arrived at work, her supervisor called her into his office. She was fired for missing work, even though she had obtained permission the day before. Mr. President, these are some of the people who desperately need our help. They need this amendment to break out of abusive relationships.

Progress on DV

Let me take a moment to put this amendment in context because it’s the next logical step in the progress we’ve been making fighting domestic violence. Mr. President, we have come a long way over the past few years in dealing with domestic violence. Not long ago, domestic violence was considered a family problem. It was something people didn't talk about. That climate made it difficult for victims to seek help. It prevented friends and neighbors from getting involved in what was considered "someone else's business." Today, stopping domestic violence is everyone's business - thanks to the Violence Against Women Act, which I was proud to help draft and pass. For the first time, VAWA, recognized domestic violence as a violent crime and a national public health crisis and laid out a coordinated strategy to bring advocates, shelters, prosecutors, and law enforcement professionals together to fight domestic violence. I was proud to help reauthorize VAWA in 2000. Over the years, I’ve been proud to work with advocates from Washington state and across the country to strengthen VAWA programs, to increase funding, and to help raise awareness.

My Amendment is the Next Step

So VAWA was the first step. It helped us respond to the immediate threat of abuse. Now we need to address the long-term problems that victims face. We need to break down the economic barriers that trap women in abusive relationships, and we need to reach out to children who witness violence and health care professionals so stop the cycle of violence and truly protect women and children. Let me walk through the parts of my amendment and show how it will help prevent and stop abuse.

Unemployment Insurance

My amendment gives victims of violence access to unemployment compensation. Specifically, it provides victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault or stalking with unemployment insurance if they have been separated from their employment as a result of such violence. Many abusers trap their victims financially – limiting their ability to work and forcing them out of a job. Let me share some statistics compiled by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Many victims of domestic violence have current or former partners who interfere with their efforts to work by harassing them on the job, threatening them and their children, withholding transportation, or beating them so severely that they cannot work. In addition, more than 25% of domestic violence victims surveyed in three national studies reported that they lost a job due, at least in part, to domestic violence. We know that a job is often the only way for a victim to build up the resources to eventually leave a violent relationship. But abuse and stalking can make it impossible for a victim to keep a job. We know of cases where abusers will deliberately sabotage a victim’s ability to work placing harassing phone calls, cutting off their transportation, and showing up at the workplace and threatening employees. When a victim loses her job because of violence, she should have access to UI benefits.

Half the States Are Already Doing This**

Now during this debate some may claim that this is some big, onerous expansion. I’ve seen the talking points from groups who want to kill this genuine effort to protect women from violence, and I can just tell you that they’ve got it wrong. This is not some dramatic expansion. Today, 25 states already provide some type of UI assistance for victims of domestic violence. We can offer that same protection to victims in every state, and we have an obligation to do it.


My amendment will also protect victims by allowing them unpaid time to get the help they need. Today, a woman can use the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to care for a sick or injured spouse, but many women cannot use FMLA to go to court to stop abuse. My amendment fixes that. We know that taking a day off of work to go to court or to go to the police can save a woman’s life. My amendment ensures women will not be punished for taking the steps they must take to protect themselves from abuse.

Children Who Witness

Let me turn to another part of my amendment, which deals with children who witness domestic violence. Batterers often harm children as well as their intimate partners. Witnessing violence can have a serious impact on children. Let me offer some statistics about abuse and children to put this in perspective. Between 3.3 and 10 million American children annually witness assaults by one parent against another In 43% of households where intimate violence occurs, at least one child under the age of 12 lives in the home. Children are often caught in the crossfire of abuse. While all children are affected differently, children who witness violence at home may display emotional and behavioral disturbances as diverse as withdrawal, low self-esteem, nightmares, and aggression against peers, family members and property. Witnessing abuse can contribute to the cycle of violence. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention at the U.S. Dept. of Justice finds that as many as 40% of violent juvenile offenders come from homes where there is domestic violence.

The Brame Case

In my home state of Washington, we are now all too aware of the price that children pay in cases of domestic violence. In April of 2003, the Tacoma Police Chief David Brame shot his wife Crystal and then took his own life, all while their two young children watched. The final, tragic act was the last in a long history of abusive events that often played out in front of two small children. According to the police report, David Brame had been driving around in a shopping center parking lot in Gig Harbor that day when he spotted Crystal and the couple's children as she parked her car. Brame shot her, then turned the gun on himself. According to a witness 7-year-old Haley told her "My daddy is a policeman and he is very mean to my mommy. I think my daddy has killed her." Then, Haley told officers "she had seen her dad point a gun at her mom's head in the past." Detectives talked to David, 5, at the hospital several hours later as his mother was fighting for her life. They asked the boy "did you see the gun?" David answered "yeah. And, it shooted my mom into flat dead." The children talked about the past anger between their mother and father and what led up to that terrible day. This is just one terrible example of the trauma that children who live with domestic violence have to live with. It should be our collective goal to help them overcome it. Here’s how my amendment helps children who witness domestic violence. First, it establishes grants to serve children who have been exposed to domestic violence. It supports direct counseling and advocacy, early childhood and mental health services, legal advocacy, and specialized services. Second, it provides training for school personnel to develop effective prevention and intervention strategies. Third, it helps child welfare agencies, domestic violence and sexual assault service providers work together to protect children. And it supports multi-system intervention models and crisis nurseries for children who are exposed to violence in the home. Children who witness domestic violence have special needs that are not being addressed today, and my amendment offers the help they need.

Health Screenings

Let me turn to the next part of my amendment, which increases health screenings so that more victims can get assistance. More than 1 in 3 women who seek care in emergency rooms for violence-related injuries were injured by an intimate partner. Unfortunately, most victims of violence who seek health care leave the doctor’s office with the underlying cause of their injuries untreated. The costs of intimate partner violence exceed $5.8 billion each year - $4.1 billion of that is for direct medical and mental health care services. Health care providers can do a great deal to stem the tide of domestic violence before it becomes life threatening. A 1999 study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that only 10 percent of primary care physicians routinely screen for intimate partner abuse during new patient visits and nine percent routinely screen during periodic checkups. Emerging research indicates that hospital-based domestic violence interventions will reduce health care costs by at least 20 percent. My amendment will help ensure that health care providers are trained in how to identify and serve victims of domestic violence and provide grants to strengthen health care systems’ response to domestic violence. My amendment will promote public health programs that integrate family violence assessment and intervention into basic care. It encourages collaboration between health care providers, public health programs, and domestic violence programs. My amendment will lead to more effective interventions, more coordinated systems of care, greater resources to educate health care providers about domestic violence, and ultimately to more women receiving help. In December 1999, the New England Journal of Medicine published a major study on the “Risk Factors for Injury to Women from Domestic Violence.” Here is what one of the researchers, Dr. Robert Muelleman, had to say: “A lot of women who have died from domestic violence had been seen in their local emergency rooms at least two years before their deaths. In America, two to four million women are injured each year and one to two million of those show up in emergency rooms. Of these, easily 2,000 to 3,000 a year end up as homicides. It’s clear that medical professionals in the emergency room can be a great help in identifying at risk women and directing many of them to supportive resources before it’s too late.” That’s from Dr. Robert Muelleman of the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Health Services

Now let me turn to another part of my amendment, which expands the services available to victims of abuse. My amendment gives states the option to use Medicaid to help victims. It also ensures that domestic violence screening and treatment is covered by the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. Finally, my amendment ensures states use some of the Maternal and Child Health Block Grant on DV screening and treatment.

Recap of Amendment

So those are the main provisions of my bill: Extending UI benefits for victims of abuse Offering Family and Medical Leave so a victim can go to court or to the police station Ending insurance and employment discrimination Providing help for children who witness abuse Offering access to healthcare for victims And improving the way our health care providers screen for domestic violence Mr. President, my amendment combines the protections and services that victims, law enforcement and advocates tell us are needed based on their real world experiences – every day – on the front lines of domestic violence. We have an opportunity to make a real difference for millions of women who are being assaulted. We can save lives, and we can eliminate all the costs that domestic violence imposes on our businesses, families and communities.

Who Really Wants to Help Victims?

The question is – are you serious about helping prevent violence against women.

  • This bill focuses on penalties after a woman has been abused.
  • My amendment aims to prevent that abuse in the first place.

After a woman’s been killed, it’s too late. We’ve got to stop this abuse before it ends up killing a woman, and my amendment gives women the tools to escape deadly abuse. Are the Senators in this chamber serious about helping victims of abuse? That’s the question before us. And I don’t care what the lobbyists say. The Chamber of Commerce has lobbyists lined up and down the hall. They’ve got plenty of people making their case. But the women whose stories I shared with you don’t have many people here fighting for them. I’ve been to the shelters. I’ve talked to women who have been beaten. I’ve looked in their eyes. I know the odds they’re up against. I know what I will say the next time I’m looking into the eyes of a victim of abuse. My colleagues will have to decide for themselves if they will give her excuses or if they will throw her a lifeline to help her escape the violence that may kill her. What will you say to victims of abuse? Your vote will speak volumes.