Document 7: Opening Statement of William S. Cohen, U.S. Senator, Maine. Senate Hearing 103-878, 12 November 1993. Hearing before the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, 103rd Congress, First Session on Examining the Rise of Violence Against Women in the State of Maine and in Other Rural Areas, South Portland, Maine. Serial No. J-103-36.
Senator William S. Cohen, Republican from Maine, stated that the VAWA had support from figures in the political center. He called attention to the pervasive problem of domestic violence on a national scale, as well as the particular toll it had taken on the state of Maine.
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN: FIGHTING THE
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 1993
COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY,
South Portland, ME.
The committee met, pursuant to notice, at 9:00 a.m., in the City Council Chamber, South Portland City Hall, South Portland, ME, Hon. William S. Cohen presiding.
OPENING STATMENT OF HON. WILLIAM S. COHEN, A U.S.
SENATOR FROM THE STATE OF MAINE
Senator COHEN. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to this hearing.
Violence has always been a part of the human experience. Today, however, our society is facing such an escalation of violence that many Americans fear not only to walk the streets of our urban ghettos, but also the once quiet safe streets of our suburban neighborhoods and rural communities in States like Maine. Not only must parents be concerned about what mischief their children might get into on the way home from school, they must also worry about whether their child might get shot in the school playground or mugged in the school hallway.
As we look at America, too often we see a rising tide of violence, a flood tide that is sweeping this country and drowning the cities and towns, and urban and rural areas. As I said on the Senate floor recently during the debate of the omnibus crime bill, we can and we should build more prisons and hire more police officers and prosecutors, but none of these can be done fast enough to keep pace with the number of crack-addicted babies that are being born or the number of children growing up in urban concrete jungles. The only way to retrieve our society from continuing a downward spiral of violence is to embrace moral values--values about caring and respect for our children and those around us, and about taking responsibility for ourselves and our children.
As communities, public officials, politicians street police, district attorneys, and courts struggle to deal with the drive-by shootings, gang violence, drug trafficking and street crime that are overwhelming our criminal justice system, there is one aspect of violence in our society that has received and continued to receive too little attention. That aspect is the violence experienced by thousands of women and children occurring in the one place that, no matter how dangerous our streets become, we all want to believe is safe and inviolate--our homes. It would be easier and less disturbing to believe that violence against women is being perpetrated by strangers, but the truth is that the vast majority of abuse and sexual assaults are being committed by those we know and by those we call loved ones.
In Maine, a domestic assault occurs every 2 hours and 20 minutes. Every 2 hours and 20 minutes. Nationally, it is estimated that an act of domestic violence occurs every 18 seconds and that some 6 million women are beaten each year by their husbands and boyfriends and that 4,000 women each year die as a result.
It was not until a century ago that the laws began to change to revoke a man's legal right to beat his wife. While our society has adopted many of the customs and traditions brought to the New World by the English colonists, we would have been wise to reject the English common law principle that a man could beat his wife with a rod not thicker than his thumb. This "rule of thumb" was included in Sir William Blackstone's codification of the British common law in 1768 which influenced early American judicial thought.
Despite the positive changes in the law of the last century, the criminal justice system continues to ignore or condone battering. Although this "rule of thumb" is no longer reflected in our Nation's laws, regrettably it still influences many of our citizens' view of domestic relations. It has only been in the last 20 years, with the growth of the women's movement and the struggle for equal rights, that police, prosecutors, courts, and society in general have been forced to confront an issue that has too long been considered a private family matter.
Every day thousands of women are held hostage in their own homes, subject to a reign of terror, both physical and emotional, and made by their batterer to feel that they are to blame. It must be made clear that battering of any kind is a crime, that it will not be tolerated, and that victims will be protected with the full force of the law. As a society, we must educate men and women, boys and girls, and ensure that all of those who are victims of such abusive situations have the opportunity to protect both themselves and their children.
It is also critical to stop the cycle of abuse. Studies show that batterers have often grown up in abusive homes, seeing their mothers battered or indeed being abused themselves. Many of the troubled and delinquent juveniles that come into contact with out juvenile justice systems have been victims of some form of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. The victims of abuse become the perpetrators of abuse. The cycle must be stopped.
Unlike domestic abuse, rape is a crime that we tend to associate with strangers lurking in the darkened streets and back alleyways. The reality is that the perpetrators are more likely to be husbands, boyfriends, family members, or friends rather than strangers. According to a recent nationwide survey, 75 percent of the women who reported being raped said the assailant was someone they knew, and it is clear from the numbers that most of these assaults are not being committed in the dark streets but in our homes and the homes of relatives and friends.
The official statistics on rape and sexual assault are shocking. In Maine, a woman is raped every 30 hours, but the reality is even worse. According to the National Victim Center, only 16 percent of rapes are ever reported. In the 1992 study it was estimated that more than 12 million American women have been the victim of forcible rape sometime in their lifetime, with 60 percent of the rapes occurring before the victim was 18 years of age.
Perhaps even more than domestic abuse, rape is a crime that has remained hidden, not only in our modern society but throughout history and indeed throughout the world. It is a heinous and shameful assault upon the physical and emotional integrity of the victim. Yet, throughout history we have too often placed the shame and the blame for the rape on the victim and not the perpetrator. It is only in the past 2 decades that we have made any substantial progress in shifting the responsibility back where it legitimately belongs and attempting to address the needs and concerns of the victims of rape. The fact that only a small percentage of rapes are ever reported to the police authorities is an indication that much more needs to be done.
Unlike rape, which continues to remain largely shrouded from public view, a crime that has received much public attention in recent months is that of stalking. Justice Louis Brandeis once described the right to be left alone as the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men, and we would have to add women as well. Unfortunately, an increasing number of women are becoming victims of stalking, which is an insidious and frightening crime. The targets of stalkers often find it impossible to be left alone. They feel as if there is no place to turn when they become a stalker's prey.
About 5 percent of the women in the general population will be victims of stalking at some time in their lives. It is a unique crime because it often involves ordinarily normal behavior that is used to harass and hound a victim. Simple actions such as using the telephone or standing on street corners become the tools of the crime. Stalking is also unique because it is often a series of acts that escalate into a violent and tragic consequence for the victim. It is critically important that anti-stalking laws identify the stages of stalking and enable law enforcement officials to intervene before a stalker's actions culminate in violence.
Women who seek protection from abuse often face a judicial system that has traditionally viewed such violence as "domestic disputes" and, therefore, has given less serious attention to abuse. Even when protection is sought and obtained, there is no guarantee that the abuse is going to stop. Like domestic abuse and sexual assault, stalking is a crime that does not discriminate. It affects people from all walks of life. I became deeply involved in the issue that I was surprised to learn three members of my own staff had been targets of stalkers.
Women throughout our country, in our Nation's urban and rural communities, are being beaten and brutalized and terrorized. Even those women who have not been touched directly by violent crime are affected. How many women can walk home at night without some thought of what is the safest route to take or without pausing when they hear footsteps behind them? Regretfully, all women are victims of fear, and that fear is generated by the pervasiveness of violence directed at women. It is our mothers and wives and daughters and sisters and friends and neighbors and coworkers who are being victimized as well.
The question is how do we best respond to the violence directed at the women of our society? With regard to stalking, I felt strongly that something had to be done to see that tough, enforceable anti-stalking laws are passed. Last year Senator Biden and I sponsored legislation that directed the National Institute of Justice to develop a model anti-stalking law for the States to follow. While it is important that we have anti-stalking laws in place, it is equally important that these laws be enforceable. What must prevent the situation where a victim learns that the local police force or the prosecutor's office is reluctant to do something, not because of indifferent to the plight of victims but because the State anti-stalking law has deficiencies that render it completely ineffective.
While we are limited in predicting who will become the stalker and who will be the victim, we can prevent victims from being told that the State is powerless to help. It was this type of situation that our own legislation sought to prevent, and it is my hope that the model code, which was just released this past month, will prove to be an effective tool for the States in their fight to stop stalking.
In an event to address the larger issues of domestic abuse and sexual assault, again I joined Senator Biden and others in 1989 in introducing the first comprehensive Federal legislation designed specifically to address the broad scope of violent crime against women both on the streets and in their homes. This legislation, The Violence Against Women Act, is designed both to increase public awareness of the magnitude of the problem and also to enhance law enforcement and prevention efforts.
The Violence Against Women Act was introduced in each of the past three Congresses, and I am pleased to report to you today that earlier this week it was debated and it was approved for the first time by the full Senate as a part of the omnibus anti-crime measure. We cannot, however, afford to become complacent. There is still much to be done before this act is finally passed into law. Today's hearing will strengthen the record on why the passage of the bill is critical to combating the escalation of violent crime against women. It also provides us with a meaningful opportunity to explore what further measures can and should be taken at the Federal level to ensure a safer environment for women of our Nation.
I want to thank all of our witnesses who will be testifying, particularly the courageous women who have agreed to come forward and share their painful experiences with the committee and with the public. Three of these women continue to have reason to fear their abusers and stalkers. These women are to be admired and commended for their willingness to come forward to help educate the Congress and the public and, most importantly, to help other women who are victims of either violence or stalkers.
We have only a few witnesses who will be testifying this morning. Since the notice of these hearings, I must tell you my office has been flooded with phone calls and people coming in to say that they would like to testify. We will not be able to take all of the testimony this morning. I am going to invite all of those who want to, to prepare a letter of some form of written documentation of your experience, and that will become part of a formal record of this hearing. Senator Biden could not be here this morning, but he is very, very interested in this hearing and indeed he has asked me personally to bring the record back to him so we can use it in our negotiations with the House of Representatives as we try to include the Violence Against Women Act as part of the House version of the crime bill. So for all of you who wish to make a statement please put it in writing. It will become a part of the hearing record and will be very important to the passage of the act.
Our first panel of witnesses is going to focus on the problem of domestic violence, and I want to welcome four panelists. We have Donna Baietti, who is the director of Battered Women's Workshop that serves hundreds of abused women and their children in Aroostook County. Donna, please come forward.
We have Dr. Robert McAfee, a practicing surgeon in Portland, the president-elect of the American Medical Association who has led the AMA's effort to address the issue of family violence. Dr. McAfee was with me last evening as we taped a session on health care reform. It is good to see you again.
We have Patrol Officer Ruth Hodgdon of the Damariscotta Police Department who has worked extensively in the area of domestic and sexual assault. And, finally, I want to welcome Lisa, a victim of domestic abuse who has agreed to share her painful and harrowing story with us. I want to welcome all of you here.
Donna, would you like to begin?
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