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Public Statements

White Ribbon Campaign

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. BUERKLE. Mr. Speaker, today I rise to speak about two of the most significant issues facing our society today--the twin scourges of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Our society has a moral obligation to stand up against those who exploit their power to commit violence against women, men, and children. I join other Members here today in taking the opportunity to discuss these issues and participate in the White Ribbon Campaign.

On Tuesday of this past week, March 22, in Syracuse, New York, the president of SUNY Upstate Medical University, Dr. David Smith, chaired a breakfast. It was the kickoff to the White Ribbon Campaign, a campaign that is to draw attention to and focus on, raise awareness of, domestic violence and sexual abuse. The White Ribbon Campaign is an international campaign, participating probably across 55 countries.

Later in the week, on Friday, again Dr. Smith led a group of men in a march raising awareness for domestic violence. They marched in women's shoes down the main street in Syracuse, New York. Again, ``walk a mile in their shoes,'' raising awareness, raising the consciousness of domestic violence and sexual abuse, these issues that face our society today. The international campaign has probably 55 countries and involves a general public education focused on preventing domestic violence.

Many of my fellow Members this past week have been wearing white ribbons for our commitment to putting the spotlight on domestic violence. Wearing the white ribbon speaks to our personal pledge to never commit, condone, or remain silent about violence against women and children. The white ribbons were sponsored by Vera House. Vera House was formed in 1977 in Syracuse, New York, by Sister Mary Vera because Sister Mary Vera recognized the need for emergency shelters for women.

She developed and expanded her services. Now, today, Vera House has merged with the Rape Crisis Center, and they serve the needs of so many women, men and children who have been abused. Again, the whole White Ribbon Campaign is to raise public awareness of domestic violence.


Ms. BUERKLE. I thank the gentlewoman from North Carolina for her kind comments and for putting attention on the Rape Crisis Centers and all of these centers which have dealt with this, because today, while we rise and we stand to call and bring to consciousness domestic violence, this is also a wonderful opportunity to thank the hundreds of thousands of people who volunteer in these shelters, who work for these agencies, who provide a safe haven for the women, the men and the children who are abused--for the victims of domestic violence.

My colleague talked about what these centers do. Vera House, the agency that I stand today to represent and to talk about, has expanded their services these days to outreach, advocacy, education, and children's counseling. Children, as you heard from my colleague, are often the victims of domestic violence between spouses. They are the ones who suffer. Vera House offers counseling to these children. Most importantly, Vera House provides violence education for the perpetrators. If we are going to change behaviors, we have got to educate and to retrain the way the perpetrators think.


Ms. BUERKLE. Mr. Speaker, at this time, I ask unanimous consent that all Members may have 5 legislative days in which to revise and extend their remarks and to include extraneous material on the subject of domestic violence and sexual assault.


Ms. BUERKLE. Mr. Speaker, for over 14 years, I have worked at Vera House as a pro bono legal volunteer. The Women's Bar Association in Syracuse, New York, put together a program where all attorneys, male and female, go through training to begin to address the needs of the victims of domestic violence. Through those 14 years, I began to get an up-close, clear understanding of the issue of domestic violence. The fact is that domestic violence transcends socioeconomics; it transcends race. Domestic violence is an issue that everyone faces. It crosses racial lines; it crosses economic lines; it crosses social lines.

I recall one of my meetings with a woman whose husband was well-known in the media in our town. You would never suspect. You would never think that she would be a victim of domestic violence--educated, with financial means. Yet she was a victim. This is the pervasiveness of sexual assault and domestic violence.

At this time, I yield to my esteemed colleague, Judge Poe.


Ms. BUERKLE. I thank my esteemed colleague from Texas for his kind comments, and I thank all of the gentlemen who have the courage to stand up and call awareness to the issue of domestic violence, who stand against the violence against women, men, and children.

Domestic violence is known by many names: domestic abuse, spousal abuse, family violence, intimate partner violence. It also takes many forms, from physical violence involving small things such as hitting or kicking, biting, shoving, or restraining. It can be emotional or it can be verbal, which manifests in many types of behavior: controlling, domineering, threatening, or humiliating. And we as a society have an obligation to raise the awareness of domestic violence so that women know, just as my esteemed colleague was talking about, it's not their fault. It is the fault of the perpetrator, whether that perpetrator is male or female, and that is the person who should be held accountable, not the victim.

It can also be economic abuse in which the abuser controls the victim's money, and this abuse we often see with the elderly. Another issue that we need to raise society's consciousness about, the issues of elder abuse.

Tragically, domestic violence is not a rare phenomenon, Mr. Speaker. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that domestic violence is a public health problem affecting over 32 million Americans, or 10 percent of the population. This is a tragedy of national proportion that society, again, we must raise up the consciousness of this horrific issue.

The effects of domestic violence are staggering. Physical abuse can be bruises, broken bones, head injuries, lacerations, but those are just the external physical wounds. Internal bleeding, chronic health conditions such as arthritis, irritable bowl syndrome, ulcers, migraines, miscarriages can also be linked to

physical abuses that victims sustain.

But there are other effects as well. Many victims experience anxiety, stress, fear, guilt, depression, guilt that what is happening to them is their fault. Again, we have to raise the awareness and raise the consciousness of society that it is the perpetrator's fault, not the victim's.

Abused victims also frequently manifest a condition we think of relative to our veterans: posttraumatic stress disorder. Victims with conditions have flashbacks, nightmares, or exaggerated responses.

The effects of abuse can also be financial. Many victims courageously leave their abusers but often lack the education, the skills, and the resources to find gainful employment to care for themselves and any children they might have.

Mr. Speaker, I can recall sitting with women who are helpless. They sit across the table from you, and they are helpless because they don't know what to do. They don't know how to get out of the situation. They don't understand that there is help and that society is willing to step up and provide safe haven for them and for their children.

I spoke to a prosecutor who had a program that would go after deadbeat dads and go after the support so that women would be able to leave, be safe, and get support in order to support their children. I think that our society is coming around. We have wonderful organizations like Vera House, but we in this House must work hard. We must continue to raise awareness about these issues.

The other societal scourge I referenced in my opening remark is sexual assault. Sexual assault is, simply put, any unwanted contact of a sexual nature. It does not matter if the victim is on a date or drinking when it occurs. It's never okay to force sexual contact on you against your will.

Again, it's raising the awareness. It's letting society know, the vulnerable know, that it's not your fault and that you don't have to withstand these abuses.

Like domestic abuse, sexual assault knows no privileged class immune to its ravages. Men, women, children, all ages, all races, all religions, and ethnicities are victims. The effects are often similar to the victims of domestic abuse, and the effects can be especially troubling for children and men.

I serve on the Veterans' Affairs Committee, and I am passionate about veterans' issues. It is a committee that is bipartisan. It's a committee that works together because we all understand, we all understand the service and the sacrifice of our men and women in the military. I am the daughter and sister of veterans and believe that we owe a debt of gratitude to our men and women in uniform, but part of that debt extends to making sure that we don't turn a blind eye to sexual assault of women and men in our armed services.

We have much to do, but I applaud the U.S. Air Force's recognition that sexual assault against both male and female airmen is a serious problem that needs a systemic solution. And while the Air Force has emphasized sexual assault prevention in responses for several years, they acknowledge that sexual assault is still a problem in the Air Force, as it is for our military services. In the Air Force's own words, Sexual assault continues to burden our airmen and degrade our mission effectiveness. Sexual assault is a crime and there is no place for this or this behavior in our Air Force. We must demand better of ourselves and of society.

Consequently, they contracted with Gallup to conduct an anonymous poll about sexual assault in the Air Force. The findings were, to put it mildly, disturbing. The results of the survey in the 12 months prior were that 2,143 women and 1,355 men reported that they had been sexually assaulted, with the majority of female victims reporting that their assailant was a fellow airmen. Even one victim is one too many.

Sadly, it is unrealistic to think that our Armed Forces would be immune to the kinds of problems endemic in our society. We must engage as men, women, moms, dads, community leaders, airmen, soldiers, marines, sailors, and guardsmen; churches, synagogues, mosques, youth centers, sports teams, schools, colleges. The list goes on. It will take all aspects of society to change a culture that increasingly devalues human life.

I believe, Mr. Speaker, that we are created in the image of God and that for each of us, He has a purpose in our lives. No woman should ever, ever have to fear for the safety of her unborn child because of an abusive husband. No child should ever dread going to bed because of a parent who is molesting her. And no man should be raped because justice turned a blind eye to prison rape.

I have six children and 11 grandchildren, Mr. Speaker, and as a parent and a grandparent, I think about the lessons I have tried to teach to each of them. Some of those lessons were very successful, some less so, but I taught my kids to help others. Helping others includes living up to the pledge I mentioned earlier, that I am making by wearing that white ribbon: I will not commit, condone, or remain silent about violence against women, men, or children. And I commend the other Members of this body for the white ribbons that they courageously wore to, again, raise the awareness of domestic violence and sexual assaults.

We have a serious problem in front of us, Mr. Speaker, in every community in America, but I have hope. America is an amazing country, and I am so privileged to be an American, to be free. I believe that the greatness of this country is a reflection of both the greatness of our founding and the greatness of our people. We are up to and equal to the task of fighting domestic violence and sexual assault if we put our American minds and our American spirits to it.

So, today, as I stand before you, Mr. Speaker, again, to call attention to the scourge of domestic violence and sexual abuse, it's, at the same time, celebrating the wonderful agencies and shelters and volunteers and people who have stepped forth who are willing to take this issue on, who are willing to address it, who are willing to help the victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. We are blessed by their service, by their commitment to society, by their appreciation of the value of human life and their desire to help those who need that help.

Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for the ability to be able to call attention to these issues.

At this time, I want to say to Vera House in Syracuse, as well as all of the shelters and all of the agencies throughout this country, thank you for your service. Thank you for what you do for the victims of domestic violence and sexual assaults.

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