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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

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Location: Washington, DC

STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS

Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I want to relay a telephone number, a number that may not sound familiar but you can be sure is memorized by thousands of women across the country. 1-800-799-SAFE-the number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Each month, over 16,000 women and men call the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, with a bilingual staff and a TTY-line for the hearing impaired, the National Domestic Violence Hotline provides immediate, informed and confidential assistance to those caught in family violence. Oftentimes, it is the first call a battered woman makes, even before calling the police or a friend.

The Hotline is located in Austin, TX, but answers telephone calls placed anywhere in the United States and the U.S. territories. A distressed caller is connected to a trained advocate who is able to provide crisis intervention counseling, help create a safety plan, directly connect the caller with a local shelter or provide a range of local referral information. Using a massive database listing more than 5,000 services nationally, one of 30 full or part-time advocates puts a caller in touch immediately with local programs offering shelter and direct care.

I want to share with my colleagues two real-life stories from women who have called the Hotline. One caller dialed the Hotline after her boyfriend pulled a gun and threatened to kill her if she left him. Fearing for her life, she fled with her two young children. They ran to a nearby strip mall where she called the Hotline. As she told a Hotline advocate her story, she watched her abuser search for her in every store in the mall. Once a local shelter was contacted, arrangements were made to rescue the woman and her children from their hiding spot in a back alley behind the restaurant.

An immigrant woman who spoke no English called from a community clinic. She had learned that for the past year her abusive husband had been raping their 15-year-old daughter. Her husband had no idea she was calling the Hotline. He had kept her so isolated on the ranch where they lived that she didn't even know her address. While the woman stayed on the line, an advocate contacted the sheriff's office and together they pieced together enough information to figure out her address. The sheriff made plans to confirm the child abuse at the daughter's school, after which the husband would be arrested immediately. After completing the exchange with the sheriff's office, the advocate contacted the nearest shelter and arranged to pick up the woman and her daughter at the clinic.

These are real women who we see every day at work, at the grocery store and at the school parking lot whose lives have been dramatically changed, in part, by that first call to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Created by the Violence Against Women Act, the Hotline answered its first call on February 21, 1996, and its one millionth call on August 4, 2003. In the past decade we've witnessed a sea of change in how Americans view domestic violence. It is no longer treated as a private, family matter, but as a public crime. As public awareness has grown-as the Hotline's telephone number is posted on bus billboards and websites, in school offices and doctor's waiting rooms-there has been a dramatic increase in calls. Between 2000 and 2001 alone, call volume increased by 18.5 percent. In 2002, the Hotline answered almost 180,000 calls, an increase of 7.5 percent from the previous year. The Department of Defense recently requested that the Hotline accept calls from military personnel-a move that will certainly increase the call volume substantially.

While the majority of the Hotline's day-to-day operating costs are paid with Federal dollars designated in annual spending bills, funding has not kept pace with the growing call volume and the Hotline's technology and telecommunication needs. This year, the spending bill appropriated only three million dollars to the Hotline. Older equipment, coupled with increased usage, has set the Hotline up to experience frequent problems with the network, data corruption and the lurking threat of a crash in the entire system. The Hotline tries to answer almost 500 calls a day with old computers and servers. Because the system is outdated and the staff is stretched thin, over 26,000 calls last year went unanswered due to long hold times or busy signals.

We need to answer each and every one of the calls to the Hotline. Today I am launching an innovative and far-reaching solution to the Hotline's problems, the Connections Campaign. The Connections Campaign is a public/private partnership that teams up private telecommunication and technology companies with the Federal Government to solve the Hotline's crisis. Under the Connections Campaign, the same companies-Microsoft, Sony, BellSouth, Verizon Wireless, IBM, Nortel Networks, Dell and others-that supply Americans with home computers, cell phones and telephone service are donating hardware and software to the Hotline. Items like mapping software, networked computers, servers, flat-screened monitors and telephone airtime are being pledged to the Hotline. This is just the beginning of a multi-year, multi-million dollar initiative to place the Hotline squarely in the twenty-first century.

On the public side of the partnership, I am proud to introduce the Domestic Violence Connections Campaign Act of 2004 which will provide a million dollars to train and assist the Hotline's advocates so that they may effectively use the improved equipment provided by the Connections Campaign. In addition, the Act creates a new research grant program to be administered by the Attorney General that will review and analyze data generated by the Hotline. Taking into consideration needs for caller confidentiality and security, researchers will study Hotline data to determine the trends, potential gaps in service and geographical areas of need. Within three years of enactment, researchers will release a comprehensive Hotline study to Congress and the Attorney General. Finally, my bill provides an $800,000 grant program for the Hotline to increase public awareness about domestic violence and the Hotline's services.

One hand clapping simply does not make enough noise. Federal, State and local government cannot always supply all the answers and resources to resolve our communities' pressing problems. Today's Connections Campaign recognizes that big problems warrant grand, collaborative solutions. Cooperation between the Federal Government and the private sector is critical to enhance the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

A cornerstone of the Violence Against Women Act was my conviction that ending domestic violence and sexual assault required a coordinated, community response. We worked hard to ensure that emergency room personnel, police officers, victim advocates, shelter directors and court clerks worked together to implement the many mandates of the Violence Against Women Act. The Connections Campaign is Act Two. We are now asking that the corporate community get actively involved to strengthen a key safety net for women and their families, the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Today's legislation and the kick-off is just the beginning of what I envision to be a lasting connection between the Hotline and the technology and telecommunications community. I look forward to coming back to the Senate floor to inform my colleagues about the new computers, wireless headsets, upgraded software and other technology that could be provided to the Hotline through the Connections Campaign. In the meantime, let me close by commending and expressing my gratitude to Sheryl Cates, the director of the Hotline and her dedicated staff who are providing the first step to safe, new lives for millions of battered women. They are truly doing God's work.

I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the RECORD.

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