Good morning. Let me start by thanking the National Network to End Domestic Violence for inviting me to speak at these "sunrise services". I know it's early, so I will be brief. As Elizabeth Taylor said to her eighth husband, I won't keep you long.
Seriously, I am excited to be here this morning. As you well know, my colleague and neighbor from the north, Representative Mark Green, introduced the 2005 VAWA reauthorization bill yesterday afternoon—not a moment too soon. The anticipation has been building here on the hill, and I can't wait for us to finally send an even stronger piece of VAWA legislation to the President's desk.
You may ask, why do I say "even stronger"? Well, those of you who are old enough to remember the last VAWA reauthorization five years ago will know that our task then was much more difficult than it is today. You may think that voting for legislation to stop domestic violence is a "no-brainer," but for a lot of members, it was a tough vote—I guess you could say a "brain teaser."
But thanks to the women and men and organizations in this room today—AND, I must say, to the bipartisan Congressional Women's Caucus, which I co-chaired with Representative Millander McDonald—we were able to persuade many of our recalcitrant male colleagues that this was not a communist plot to undermine the American family, but instead it was a very real problem that Congress had every reason to attempt to continue to mitigate.
Just after I came to Congress in 1999, the terrible shootings at the Columbine High School in Colorado happened, and Speaker Hastert appointed me to the Bipartisan Working Group on Youth Violence. I worked with my colleagues to answer the questions "why did they happen" and "how might we meet the challenge of youth violence in this country. We met with ministers, law enforcement officers, judges, prosecutors, teachers, parents, and young people.
Well, it will come as no surprise to those of you in this room that we found that if you scratch the surface of any of our more intractable social problems in this country—including youth violence—you will find at their source—domestic violence. As one minister dealing with troubled youth put it to me, most of his kids didn't learn violence at the point of a gun, they learned it from the back of their fathers' hands.
It is because violence begets violence in an endless circle. And if we want to break the cycle, we must start with the youth of society, and that's exactly what this legislation does.
I remember meeting with some of the more troubled kids in one of my high schools, and there was one young girl who said—honestly and without hesitation—that when her boyfriend hit her or beat her up on occasion, she felt as if he was showing how much he cared about her and wanted her to be his girlfriend.
You all have heard many more revealing and harrowing stories from women who are older, and more threatened, and more devastated from those who they believe love them.
The other experience that shaped my views on this issue came in working on the issues dealing with education for homeless children and youth. In the course of passing legislation to ensure that homeless children did not lose out on their guaranteed right to a public education, I learned just how many children become homeless because of domestic violence situations.
Needless to say, my experience with youth violence and homeless children led me straight to the issue of domestic violence. I was convinced that kids learn violence and, in most cases, they learn it at home and that is not good.
So from the start of my career in Congress, I have been guided by a fabulous group of people who comprise my domestic violence advisory committee. They are providers of services, law enforcement and other officials, and victims of violence. During the last reauthorization of VAWA, we walked through every section of the bill, discussing their real-life experiences and addressing how we best could address the challenges they saw on a day-to-day basis.
It was thanks to this group that I learned about the need to address dating violence. Based on their input, I introduced the Legal Assistance for Victims of Dating Violence Act, which amended VAWA to allow legal assistance grants to be used to help the victims of dating violence. I am pleased to say that this language was included in the 2000 VAWA reauthorization bill, and services for victims of dating violence have only been expanded further.
I am even happier to say that this time around, we don't have to battle to simply get victims of dating violence included in programs to help domestic violence. In this bill, programs have been specifically designed to deal with the unique abuse that victims of dating violence, sexual assault and stalking encounter.
Under the new "Children and Youth" section of VAWA 2005, programs will be created to work with youth and young adults to inform them about how to prevent domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking; as well as to make sure that tailored services are available and accessible to the youth population—I can't begin to express how important prevention is in the fight against domestic violence.
Let's face it, domestic abuse can no longer be ignored. As Members of Congress, advocates, parents, siblings, partners, friends, children, employers, coworkers, and neighbors –as Americans—we each have a responsibility to stop domestic violence. It took some doing, but I think we made a lot of people re-think their positions. In the old days, domestic violence was viewed as a private matter that should never leave the home, much less ever enter the courtroom.
We've made some progress, but we all know that there is still so much to be accomplished. This bill is a big step in the right direction in that it expands critical protections and services to victims of dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.
All of us bear responsibility for changing hearts and minds in ways that will stop the cycle of violence that afflicts too many women, men, and children. I want to thank each and every one of you for the dedicated and selfless work you are doing for this cause. I have no doubt that what you are doing is making a difference, and I know this new legislation will allow those of us in Congress to do what we know we must do.