Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
Annual Symposium on Domestic Violence
October 29, 2002
Good afternoon. It is a pleasure to be here with you today at this first Annual Symposium on Domestic Violence. I thank Secretary Tommy Thompson, Deputy Secretary Claude Allen, Assistant Attorney General Deborah Daniels, and Violence Against Women Office Director Diane Stuart, for their tireless efforts on behalf of victims of domestic violence. I want to recognize also all of the newly appointed National Advisory Committee members for joining us today. The work you do every day protects women from violence and changes lives. Your contributions are both vital and valued, and I thank you for your service.
A few years ago, I wrote a book about the beliefs that have shaped my life. In the book, I was able to narrow the list of my most cherished beliefs down to twenty. And prominent among these twenty life lessons is that the greatest responsibility of a culture is the transmission of values from one generation to the next.
Values begin and end in the family. As children, we learn values; as parents, we transmit them. Our children absorb the values we pass on to them, and they in turn pass these values on to their children. But when families are wracked by violence and abuse, values are corrupted. The messages transmitted by parents are messages of violence, cruelty, and powerlessness.
And the message of violence transmitted by domestic abuse resonates beyond individual families and victims.
- Domestic violence affects entire communities. The impacts of abuse are felt by the families, friends and co-workers of victims. They are felt by law enforcement officials, medical workers, and other social service workers who are called upon to respond and to repair the lives shattered by violence. In the words of President George W. Bush, quote, "Though abuse may occur in the seclusion of a private residence, its effects scar the face of our nation."
- Domestic violence damages children. Thousands of children have been scarred by violence in their homes. Sometimes they are terrified witnesses of abuse, and sometimes they are the victims. But always, these children absorb messages of violence. And all too often, these messages are transmitted to the next generation. Violence begets violence, and the cycle of domestic abuse continues, generation after generation.
- Finally, domestic violence takes lives. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that close to 700,000 incidents of domestic violence are documented every year. Thousands more go unreported. And FBI data shows that in the past quarter of a century, nearly 57,000 individuals have been killed in incidents of family violence.
These are not merely abstract, cold statistics. Each number represents a unique individual with a specific story. Let me give you an example: A female victim in Ohio endured an abusive relationship for 11 years and was emotionally and financially dependent on her abusive husband. She was the mother of three children, had a fourth grade education, no work experience, no other family, and no friends upon whom she could rely. Her situation was dire, and she felt helpless to change it.
Finally, however, the woman summoned the strength and courage to seek help from a domestic violence shelter. The staff at the shelter helped her escape from the abusive relationship by obtaining financial assistance and subsidizing housing, enrolling her in adult literacy classes, and locating for her a part-time job. They also arranged services for her children. Today, this woman and her children are happier and healthier. Most importantly, they are free from a life of abuse.
Since the passage of the Violence Against Women Act, the Justice Department and our partners at the Department of Health and Human Services have made it possible for countless other women to renew their hope, reclaim their dignity, and change their lives.
Our Violence Against Women Office alone has made more than $1 billion available to help communities increase support services for domestic violence victims and their children. Cities across the nation have used such funding to strengthen their response capabilities to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.
In San Diego, for example, the Domestic Violence Justice Center was recently opened. This new center, which is the result of a coordinated effort by the San Diego City Attorney's Office, the San Diego Police Department, and the San Diego Domestic Violence Council, brings together under one roof more than 100 domestic violence professionals.
San Diego's Justice Center houses the entire police department, including its domestic violence unit, as well as nonprofit domestic violence and sexual assault organizations, medical professionals, and volunteers. The Center is located near the courthouse and public transportation, and is designed to make the legal process less overwhelming to victims and children. I am pleased that San Diego City Attorney Casey Gwinn, who spearheaded the creation of the Justice Center, is here with us today as a member of our National Advisory Council.
In another project, our Violence Against Women Office is working with the Justice Department's research arm, the National Institute of Justice, to develop court-based initiatives that challenge the judiciary to take an active and expanded role in promoting safety for victims of domestic violence. In fact, another member of our National Advisory Council, Lieutenant Detective Margot Hill, is part of one such Judicial Oversight Initiative in Dorchester, Massachusetts.
The Justice Department also is working with the Department of Health and Human Services to help counties across the nation address the co-occurrence of domestic violence and child abuse. These counties are implementing guidelines developed by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges which are designed to help courts, child protective services, and domestic violence providers work more effectively with the broader community to prevent and respond to both domestic violence and child abuse.
The Justice Department and HHS play a key role in providing federal leadership in combating domestic violence. We provide funding to assist community initiatives through the Attorney General's Task Force on Family Violence, which began in 1983 under one of my predecessors, Attorney General William French Smith.
That Task Force, of which I was honored to be a member, issued a landmark report on family violence that laid the foundation for the Violence Against Women Act of 2000. As a United States Senator, I had the privilege of co-sponsoring the Violence Against Women Act. Today, as Attorney General, it is gratifying to have the opportunity to build on that important statute by coordinating federal, state and local resources to better protect victims of domestic violence.
President Bush joins Secretary Thompson and me as a strong supporter of the Violence Against Women Act. Funding to assist the Violence Against Women Office in implementing the act has increased over the past several years, and today stands at approximately $400 million. This funding was again requested in the President's budget for Fiscal Year 2003.
But because we recognize the human suffering behind each statistic, we recognize also that it takes more than money to address fully the problem. It takes leadership, commitment, and partnership.
In the nearly two decades since the Attorney General's Task Force on Family Violence began, America has made great strides toward addressing and preventing violence against women and providing services for victims. Our progress is the direct result of the dedication and determination of people like you, committed advocates who work every day on behalf of victims of abuse. It is only through our cooperative and comprehensive efforts that we can continue to provide our communities with the resources to hold offenders accountable and meet the needs of victims.
For this reason, last fall, I re-chartered the National Advisory Committee on Violence Against Women. In a few moments, I will introduce the individuals selected to serve on the Committee. Under their leadership, we will work to strengthen our justice system, our communities, and above all, our families, where the values of our culture rest.
As a society, it is our responsibility - and our privilege - to pass on our values to the next generation of Americans. We must work together to ensure that each victim has the opportunity to escape violence and to transform her life and the lives of her children.
One victim of domestic abuse who found help described this transformation better than I ever could. She said, quote, "I finally realized the truth, that I was hurting not only myself, but I was hurting my children even more. I was teaching them by example that they deserved to be abused and that violence was acceptable."
This victim found help, and is a victim no more. Now, she says, quote, "I wake up every morning and thank God I am alive and free. I have shown my children that it is possible to be strong, yet gentle, that violence is not the answer, and that each of us deserves to be treated with respect. Thank God, the cycle of violence will stop with their generation." More than any statistic, more than numbers on a balance sheet, these words capture the urgency and the reward of the challenge to end domestic violence. I thank each and every one of you for taking up this challenge. With each act of leadership, you help transmit a new set of values to a new generation of Americans. And with each act of justice, you give hope to a woman, a child, a family, and a nation.
Thank you for your work. Thank you for your sacrifice. God bless you and God bless America.