Domestic Violence Symposium

Prepared Remarks for the Honorable Claude A. Allen

October 29, 2002
3:00 p.m.

Thank you, Diane, for that very kind introduction. And I want to thank the Attorney General for hosting this important symposium on domestic violence. It is a real privilege and an honor for me to be here with you, today, on behalf of Secretary Thompson.

Many people may wonder why the Department of Health and Human Services is in partnership with the Department of Justice on Domestic Violence, but the answer is very simple-Domestic violence is an issue that affects families, specifically women and children. And serving families is what we are all about at the Department of Health and Human Services.

It is a travesty that 31% of women, today, report physical or sexual assault by a current or former partner during their lifetime. The implications from domestic violence are both physically and emotionally devastating, and those scars can last for a lifetime.

We tend to focus on the most dramatic and high profile cases that result in death, but domestic violence is a silent epidemic. Research shows a correlation between domestic violence and arthritis, chronic neck, back, and pelvic pain, migraine headaches, stomach ulcers, and many other digestive diseases.

Victims of domestic violence have higher rates of unintended and rapid repeat pregnancy, significantly higher risk for sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS, invasive cervical cancer, and multiple mental health problems including depression, panic attacks, and insomnia.

The impact on lives does not stop there, though. Victims of domestic violence also have higher rates of risky health behaviors such as tobacco use and substance abuse, and they seek fewer preventative health measures including early access to pre-natal care, pap smears, and mammography.

It is clear that in order to improve health outcomes and safety, our health care and social service sectors must know the signs of domestic violence, how to approach domestic violence, and know how to help.

Health care providers can play a critical role in stopping domestic violence and helping victims of abuse. Hospitals and clinics are often the first to see the results of domestic violence, and they need to have the tools to know what to do when they see a patient who may be a victim.

Once that occurs, community and social services can step in and provide the much-needed counseling and support a victim of domestic violence needs. These people need to know that what has been done to them is not right, it is not their fault, and most importantly, there is hope and they can get help.

Despite the hard work of many people in this room and in the health care community, domestic violence still has a devastating impact on individuals, their children, and their communities.

President Bush, in his proclamation declaring October as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month said that, “Domestic violence in America is intolerable and must be stopped.”

The President went on to say that, “Children who witness domestic violence often grow up believing that physical cruelty in relationships is acceptable behavior, and thus they may tend to perpetuate a cycle of violence in society.” Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a cycle that must not continue.

I remember speaking at a domestic violence forum in Virginia several years ago when I was the Secretary of Health and Human Resources for that state. I will never forget a chilling 911 call that was played that morning.

A young child probably around four or five had called 911 as his stepfather was beating his mother. The child was begging for help, as you could hear the horrific struggle in background. Even more frightening and heart-wrenching was when the child yelled out to his stepfather, “no, please don’t hit the baby.” Then the call ended.

I know that we could go around this room and hear story after story of people who have endured ruthless abuse. We have to do more to prevent domestic violence, and the National Advisory Council on Violence Against Women is a step in the right direction. This Council will help us bring national attention and increase public awareness of violence against women.

Representing Secretary Thompson and the Attorney General, the 31 council members will help facilitate cooperation and organize public forums for discussions that will help highlight best practices for combating domestic violence in local communities.

We have to do better, and we can. But it will take tremendous energy, determination, creativity, strength, and courage.

At the Department of Health and Human Services, we are offering vital programs and services already through our Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Aging, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Health Resources and Services Administration, and the National Institutes of Health.

I know the Attorney General is committed to doing all that he can to ensure that justice is served on individuals who perpetuate crimes of domestic violence. I assure you that the Department of Health and Human Services will do its part in making sure that victims of domestic violence can find the support and healing they need to rebuild their lives.

Thank you for being here today, and again I want to thank the Attorney General for his leadership in putting this symposium together. We look forward to working with you all on these issues in the years to come.