Remarks of the

SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

Co-Chairman of the

National Advisory Committee on Violence Against Women at the Committees Spring Meeting

April 24, 2003

DR. BEATO: Could everyone please take their seats again. Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. It is my great pleasure and honor to introduce to you my boss, Tommy G. Thompson. Secretary Thompson has been an advocate for issues of domestic violence and violence against women since his days as governor in the State of Wisconsin.

We do have some folks from Wisconsin. And I think that they will certainly be able to let you know his commitment to this issue and his passion that he has for it.

Secretary Thompson not only takes things to heart, but he also challenges his staff. If you're not on the edge and sort of pushing the envelope, he tells us we take up too much space. And we're certainly not here to do that on behalf of the American people.

So I want to let you know that it is an incredible opportunity for me to work with such a creative, energetic, and certainly visionary man. And I want you all to welcome my boss, Secretary Tommy G. Thompson.

SECRETARY THOMPSON: Cristina, you're a delight. Thank you so very much, Dr. Beato, for your kind introduction. And Wanda Jones, thank you for your leadership in women's health as well as many other initiatives. It's just great to be here and thank you all.

I just got back from Afghanistan. I just have to deviate from my remarks to tell you a little bit about Afghanistan. I don't have enough things to do, so I decided I wanted to try and build some women's health clinics in Afghanistan.

I went over there in October. And I made an association with some expatriates who were here when one of the ministers from Afghanistan came and we had a reception. So I had started developing this close association. And I sent three of over there before I went over there to make an assessment of the conditions in Afghanistan.

And so when I arrived in October, they were there. And they told me the Taliban had destroyed all the women's health clinics and destroyed all the laboratory equipment in the medical school, all the books. And there was no oxygen in the hospitals. Sixteen percent of the babies died in child birth. It's the worse country in the world, 16 percent -- it's the worse country in the world for maternal death. One out of four children die before the age of five in Afghanistan. And I decided there was something I had to do.

So I came back. And I talked to the President and Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, and Don Rumsfeld. And they all were excited about this opportunity. So I told them what my vision was, that I wanted to build clinics in Afghanistan and have the expatriates go over and teach because the doctors there have had no training since 1980.

And the Taliban would not let women doctors practice. And the husbands would not let women go to a male doctor to be examined. So as a result of that, women had no treatment. It was just deplorable. And that was a situation we had to do something about.

So in less than six months, we were able to remodel a hospital. And when we went to the hospital in October, there was no place -- it's a very busy place. 14,000 births last year. But there was no place for cesarean operations, for the doctor to even wash up before he operated on the women.

And the women, they had a room like this. It was just beds. No dividers, just women in there having babies. You can well imagine. Most you have gone through that, but you've had private room. This is just a big room like this, and you just had no privacy whatsoever. And it was just amazing to me.

So we opened it up. And it was such a wonderful feeling that we were able to do something. And the women and children that were there were so thankful that they had something. And you've got to realize, it's still not up to our standards by any means. But it's light years ahead of what they had.

I'm a little tired, jet lagged, and caught a cold while I was there. But I'm feeling so good about what we're doing because I think it's an opportunity for us in America to show the Muslim world how much we care about women and children and give them an opportunity. And I think it would be a tremendous thing that we can do this. And we're going to build four more of these teaching clinics.

I got four doctors over there right now to teach. They're going to help deliver the babes in the morning. And then they're going to help operate and teach them how to operate and deliver children.

And then we're also developing books, interactive books, for women who are illiterate to be able to point to a picture and then read the question and answer. And it's going to be in Pashtun and Darsi, their languages. So we hope that we're really going to be able to change this from being a country with very little opportunities for children and women to at least having a chance to live.

And one woman told me this that I'll never forget. I asked her how things were going. And she says, well, in Afghanistan, our role in life is to procreate until we have a baby that causes a hemorrhage and then we die. That was what they felt their lot in life was.

In coming up here today, I thought to myself, how can I tell you how what we were doing makes so much difference. But then, you know, we have the problems of domestic abuse. Some women in the United States are treated just as badly in their own home, and we don't know anything about it. And I think to myself how great it is to have people like you that are so passionate and so committed to changing this. And the things that you're trying to do, zero tolerance, protecting the home, and being able to break the cycle are three tremendous objectives.

And as I'm trying do something in this arena but also trying, doing something for Afghan women, it just brings it all together. Women and children in our societies, even though we're a lot better off in the United States, still we have a lot of things that have a lot of problems. And we have to work on.

And that's why this committee is so important and each and every one of you plays such a vital and important role. And I'm so pleased to be here, to welcome you to this department. I call this the Department of Compassion. And President Bush ran as a compassionate conservative. But I tell him every chance I get, and whenever he listens to me, that it's the Department of Health & Human Service that will define what compassion conservatism really is. And I define it as one that's very caring and willing to reach out and do things differently for the betterment of society.

And all of our programs, they tell Dr. Beato and Dr. Jones and all the other people who work for me, and Christy alluded to it, that there is no program that we have that cannot be improved. Every program that we have can be improved for the better. And if you believe in the status quo, you should not be working for me because I don't believe in the status quo.

I believe that if you believe in the status quo, you're not caring enough to make the necessary tough discussions to change for the better. And if you're not living on the edge, you're taking up too much space which Christy alluded to. And I believe that.

I think all of us together have a tremendous responsibility but a great opportunity to change. So it's a real privilege and an honor for me to be here with you today at this very important meeting.

And on the way into the building today, I hope you saw the display from the Silent Witness National Initiative. And each of these life-sized red wooden figures bears the name of a women whose life ended violently at hands of an intimate partner.

And as you all know, violence against women harms more than just its direct victim. It also harms the children, the abuser, the entire health of all of our families and communities. And for the health of our country, it's critical that we stop this cycle now. And that's one of your objectives: Stop the cycle now. We just have to publicize it, get it out there, and do it.

And I was over at the Vermont Baptist Church over lunch where we're kicking off a program for minorities in regards to cancer week. That was a wonderful thing because, once again, we have to get out the information on domestic abuse; we have to get the information out. And in this one arena, we had to get out the information about watching one's diet, exercising, and don't smoke.

You know, it's not rocket science. Don't abuse, don't smoke, walk or exercise, and watch what you eat and lose some weight if you have to, and we can be a lot healthier and safer as a society. So we need to stop that cycle now.

For the abused woman, the implication goes beyond physical and emotional scars. Research show a correlation between domestic violence and health conditions such as arthritis, chronic neck, back, and pelvic pain, migraine headaches, stomach ulcers, and many other digestive diseases.

The Nation Violence Against Women Survey found that the women who reported being raped, 54 percent were under the age of 18, and 83 percent were under the age of 25. However, we know that sexual assault affects women, children, and men of all ages, racial, cultural, and economic backgrounds. Sexual assault must not be tolerated in any community.

This year our department and CDC sponsored the Satellite Broadcast Sexual Violence and Prevention, building leadership and commitment to underserved communities across this country. HHS is doing our part to make sure that victims of violence against women can find the support in the healing they need to rebuild their lives.

Let me share with you a few examples of how HHS programs are making a difference in communities nationwide.

CDC's National Sexual Violence Resource Center, the resource is a clearinghouse of information, resources, and research on all aspects of sexual violence. In addition, CDC is responsible for the monitoring and trafficking of violence against women through its state-based surveillance systems.

And overall the President's fiscal year '04 funding request for this department includes $232 million for violence against women's programs. And as members of the National Advisory Committee on Violence Against Women, all of you are so critical to this Administration's fight against violence against women.

I appreciate and admire the tremendous energy, the experience, the creativity that have brought you here today and thank each of you for being here and being involved. On behalf of the many Americans affected by violence, I thank you for the leadership you bring every day to communities across this great country. But the passion and resolve all of you bring to this process, I know that we can stop violence in our homes and violence in our communities.

So ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of a very thankful Secretary, I appreciate you coming up here to the 8th floor and having an opportunity to see what we do.

And if you have time after your meeting, please, step down into command center because we're also responsible for the fight against bioterrorism. And we have built this very modern, technologically advanced command center. I think you'd appreciate it. I think it would allay any fears you might have about bioterrorists or chemical or radiological attacks on America. I'm very proud of it as you can tell.

This Department is involved in so many things. It's really the department of all. And you are so important to our mission. And I thank each and every one of you for coming and being involved and making a tremendous difference. I appreciate it. Thank you.

THE GROUP: [Applause.]

DR. BEATO: Are there any comments or questions for the Secretary?

MS. RAMIREZ-BROYLES: Thank you, Mr. Secretary, for your remarks.

What, in your opinion, is the single most important thing that the government can do with respect to domestic violence, realizing the government just can't solve all problems? We understand that. But there are certain things that the government can do well; and certain things it does poorly.

So in your mind, what would be the single most important and effective thing that the government can do competently in the arena of fighting domestic violence?

SECRETARY THOMPSON: The most important thing we can do is get out the information to every household where people can go if there's an attack, where they can go if there's abuse. Have shelters so people have safe places to go and be able to be a partner with the local communities, state communities as far as dollars are concerned. But more than that, the information that is so important to get out.

Still across American, there are so many households, especially women, who are held captive and brutalized and they don't know where to turn. They don't know how to act. They don't know how to react with the sources and resources that are available. That's our purpose, to make sure that any women in America that are abused in any way, shape, or form is that she is able to, she can leave and have a better place. And we have to provide that base.

MS. RAMIREZ-BROYLES: Do you think that there is any chance President Bush would be willing to present that message to the American public?

SECRETARY THOMPSON: I think he would. And I think he's going to make the announcement. We're working on that. Anything else? Well, thank you very much.

[Secretary Thompson departs.]