Mr. President, I rise to speak about an issue that has been very important to me for a long time, when I was a prosecutor as well as a member of the Judiciary Committee with the Senate; that is, domestic violence.
I am here because I am submitting a resolution supporting the goals and ideals of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. A number of our colleagues are cosponsoring the resolution. I am also here on behalf of Pam Taschuk.
The police in Lino Lakes, MN, knew Pam Taschuk and they knew her husband Allen. The police knew both of them because of the dozens of 911 calls that had been made about Mr. Allen over the last 15 years. He bullied his wife, their sons, and other people so many times that local police had set up a special tactical response plan just to respond to calls at the Taschuk house.
Pam Taschuk was not your ordinary domestic violence victim, if there is such a thing. She was actually a juvenile probation officer and so many police I know in Minnesota knew her. They worked with her. She was a long-time probation officer and had worked in the field for years. She was also a social worker. So it goes to show you anyone can be a victim of domestic violence.
In January of 2008, Pam called the police and reported that her husband had threatened to kill her, that Allen Taschuk had threatened to kill her. On August 25 of this year, Allen Taschuk bloodied Pam’s nose, split her lip, and trapped her in their home overnight. He was arrested, but he posted bail and was released.
On October 1, 2009, the Lino Lakes Police Department received the last 911 call they would ever get about Allen Taschuk. On that day, Allen Taschuk called 911 himself to preemptively report a shooting at his house. By the time the police arrived at his home, both he and Pam Taschuk were dead of gunshot wounds.
This happened last month in our State. This looks like a murder-suicide. Of course, it looks like Allen killed Pam before finally turning the gun on himself. But we do not need to speculate about the final end order to focus on the sad prelude to this story—so many previous 911 calls, so many earlier acts of violence, yet another victim of what some domestic violence advocates have called the war at home; a war that affected Pam, their children, and the community at large.
The most disturbing part of this story is Pam’s death is not a tragic anomaly. Pam is one of 200 Minnesota women killed as a result of domestic violence since 2000.
That is why I am submitting a resolution today to designate October National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, because Pam Taschuk and too many other women and children have to fight this “war at home” every day.
In the past several decades, thanks to the work of many individuals and organizations, there has been a sea change in the way our society looks at the issue of domestic violence. Police, the courts, and the public used to consider it a private family matter. Not surprisingly, domestic violence was the No. 1 underreported crime in the country.
Today, there is much more awareness, and we have started to pass critical legislation at both the State and Federal level to combat domestic violence. So there has been a lot of progress, but there is still a lot more to be done.
Last year, a survey done by the National Network to End Domestic Violence found that in 1 day, while more than 60,000 people received help from domestic violence programs, nearly 9,000 requests for help went unanswered because the resources were not there.
The current statistics are staggering. Currently, one in four women will experience abuse. More than three women are killed every day by their husbands or boyfriends. Millions of children witness abuse every year, some studies say as many as 10 million children.
I remember the cases we had when I was county attorney for Hennepin County. When we looked at the records of someone who was an offender, we would find way back in the records that they lived in a home where there was domestic violence. In fact, statistics show that a child who grows up in a home where there is domestic violence is 76 times more likely to commit an act of domestic violence. That is why we had a poster framed in the hallway of our office. It was a picture of a woman with a Band-Aid on her nose, holding a little baby, and the words under the picture read: “Beat your wife and your son will go to jail.”
We all must recognize as well that it doesn’t take a bruise or a broken bone for a child to be a victim of domestic violence. Kids who witness this violence are victims too. Witnessing violence between adults in the home, especially when it is repeated and ongoing, inflicts a real trauma on kids that can have damaging effects for years to come. In many respects, ending the cycle of violence in communities begins by getting violence out of the home because a violent home is, in fact, a factory for producing a new generation of violent offenders.
When I was a county attorney, I saw firsthand how domestic abuse harmed women and children, destroyed families, and challenged local law enforcement agencies, the court system, social service, and health care providers. We actually had a recent shooting of a well-respected and longtime police officer who was killed responding to a domestic abuse call. Both the prevention and prosecution of domestic violence were always among my top priorities when I was county attorney. We had one of the most landmark, cutting-edge domestic abuse service centers in the country, and still do in Hennepin County.
Sheila Wellstone, whom we honored this month for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, would always point to the work in that center. It was a one-stop shop. It is hard enough for lawyers to get through the redtape of a courtroom. This was a place where a victim of domestic violence, man or woman, could get a protective order signed, fill out a complaint, talk to a police officer, with a play area for children. Also—and this was unique for this center—there were representatives from domestic violence shelters there so they could find a place to live.
The other challenge I found we had in these cases was working with the victims so the case could be prosecuted after they filed the complaint. That is why it is so important we reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. It was landmark legislation when it was passed over 15 years ago. It has helped to train police so they do a better job dealing with victims and children of domestic violence. It also gives them a sense, when they go to the scene, of the kind of evidence they should look for. Many times victims get scared and decide not to prosecute. We have had many cases where we could prosecute with a reticent victim simply because of the evidence police were able to gather at the scene.
The Violence Against Women Act created a new culture for police officers, judges, and those who work in the courthouse to treat this crime as the serious crime it is. It is a very important tool, and it must be reauthorized. As a member of the Judiciary Committee and one of two women on the committee, I look forward to working hard to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act in 2010.
During tough economic times, we need to be extra vigilant against domestic violence. Millions of Americans have already lost their jobs, their homes, or their retirement savings. Some have lost all three. This kind of stress in the home and in the checkbook can lead to substance abuse and acts of violence. We need to make sure law enforcement has the tools it needs to protect families. That is why in the Economic Recovery Act, we included $225 million for Violence Against Women Programs and $100 million for programs that are part of the Victims of Crime Act. We also provided critical funding for law enforcement to keep cops on the street and support law enforcement programs and services through the Byrne Grant Program.
There is so much at stake, and there is so much each of us can still do to make a difference. We have to remember that any act of domestic violence hurts not only the individual victim, it hurts their family and hurts our community at large.
I will always remember a case we prosecuted when I was county attorney that brought home that point to me. It was a very sad case. The victim was a Russian immigrant. She was very isolated from the community, didn’t have many friends, a victim of domestic violence, they later learned, over the years. Her husband murdered her one day. They had a little 4-year-old girl. I don’t want to get into the gory details of what happened with her body, but he basically sickly brought her body to another State with the 4-year-old girl in the back seat. He later confessed to the crime, and there was a little service. I say “little” because the only people at the funeral service were her parents, who were from Russia, and her identical twin sister, the victim’s identical twin sister. I was there, and the victim witness advocate was there. That was it. The little 4-year-old girl, I was told, had been at the airport when the plane came in from Russia to meet for the first time her grandmother and her now deceased mother’s identical twin sister.
When they got off the plane and came into the airport, this little girl ran across the airport and hugged that identical twin sister and said: Mommy, mommy, mommy. She thought it was her mother who had come back.
That moment and that story always remind me that when we are talking about domestic violence, it is not just one victim. It is the children and it is our entire community. That is why it is so important we recognize Domestic Violence Month as well as reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.
I thank Senators Leahy, Kohl, Feingold, Gillibrand, Crapo, Collins, Specter, Landrieau, Stabenow, Kaufman, Durbin, Brown and Senator Burris, the Presiding Officer, for being cosponsors. I invite all other colleagues to join us.
I am proud to come from a State that has long been a leader in a nationwide effort to end domestic violence. We opened one of the first shelters in the country in 1974, and we started one of the first programs aimed at addressing batterers in the early 1980s. The city of Duluth, MN, was the first city to mandate that its police officers make arrests in domestic abuse cases. The city of Duluth in northern Minnesota recognized before the rest of the country that violence is violence, whether it is perpetrated by someone you love or a stranger on the street.
We can never stop working on behalf of women, children, and families everywhere to end domestic violence.
I ask unanimous consent to add Senator Burris as a cosponsor of the resolution.