Governor John Kitzhaber
4th Annual Domestic Violence Conference Speech
April 2, 1998
It's a pleasure to have been asked, for the fourth year in a row, to participate in this conference. Since I've already addressed this group three times, I'm not sure I have anything new to say. But it gives me an opportunity to publicly and strongly reaffirm my personal commitment to addressing a problem so deadly and so pervasive that it is nothing less than a disgrace to a civilized society.
I remember that when I spoke at your first annual conference, I tried to explain why I find domestic violence so appalling. It's because I see it as an aberration. While violence of any sort is intolerable, there are still places where we shouldn't be surprised to find it -- in the war-torn countries of the middle east, under bridges at night, in the dark alleys of our cities. But when it happens in the home -- the one place of all places which should stand for security, safety, support, and freedom from fear -- that breaches the most fundamental principles of civilization.
Today I continue to be appalled by the suffering and death caused by ongoing acts of violence that occur every day, every hour, every minute -- in our homes.
Like you, I continue to be outraged that the most basic and cherished rights -- the right to be safe, the right to be free from terror, the right to live -- are stamped on every single day--in people's own homes, by members of their own families -- and that too few of us seem to notice -- or care.
We see the aftermath -- in our hospitals and schools and workplaces -- but there's always the question of whether what we suspect is really true. Somehow it's easier to look the other way. Yet every time we turn away from the evidence or even the suspicion of domestic violence, we become its accomplices.
One of the greatest services this conference and its participants have performed over the past four years is to help change the prevailing attitudes that allow domestic violence not only to continue, but to escalate. The contributions of professionals like yourselves are invaluable. Not only do you deal with both victims and perpetrators of domestic violence, you are in a position to lead the way toward raising public awareness and ultimately changing public attitudes, so that this will no longer be a crime we overlook and even tolerate -- simply because it happens in the privacy of the home.
That's the good news. At the same time, the very fact that this conference has been steadily gaining momentum and recognition shows that the problem of domestic violence is still very much with us and that your work has only just begun. For example, in Multnomah county alone, the number of domestic violence-related homicides increased by 60 percent from 1996 to 1997.
Your first order of business was to raise awareness: to make people acknowledge the deadly but too often silent crime of domestic violence, and that must be an ongoing effort. But now that you've laid the groundwork, you are ready to move from awareness to action, and I understand that this year's agenda is more solution-oriented. However, both approaches -- both awareness and action -- are essential. As Ižve said here before, we must first open our eyes and our ears -- our minds and our hearts, because as long as we refuse to see and hear and understand and feel the full force of this epidemic, we cannot hope to heal.
I believe that as a society, we are finally beginning to hear, and that is due to efforts like yours. As for healing, we continue to seek better tools for dealing with domestic violence after the fact -- help and support for victims, intervention for perpetrators who choose to change, severe sanctions for those who are not. So let me take a few minutes to outline some of the things my administration has been working on this last year.
Last summer I signed into law HB 3112, which focuses on identifying domestic violence victims and helping them obtain services and treatment. I also signed SB 301 which strengthens Oregon's full faith and credit provision for foreign protection orders, so that victims of domestic violence who come to Oregon from other states will continue to be protected from their abuser.
My council on domestic violence has been conducting public hearings around the state to get citizen input about the problem of domestic violence as it manifests itself in different localities. Local domestic violence councils are being formed to address the problem in particular communities.
The domestic violence council is also conducting a statewide needs assessment which will estimate service needs of victims, identify gaps in services, and highlight current innovative and beneficial approaches. This assessment is scheduled to begin this month and be completed by June of 1999.
Attorney General Myers has been working to consolidate efforts to address domestic violence, and legislative proposals are currently being drafted in such areas as:
These are just a few of the things we have been doing at the state level, and clearly much remains to be done. But I believe we have made a strong start, and I promise that our efforts will not only continue, but accelerate and expand.
Before I wind this up, I'd like to say a few words about my own personal perspective on the subject of domestic violence.
I've spoken before about my seventeen years as an emergency room physician and about the countless victims of domestic violence I treated during that time.
Last year I was able to add a new dimension to my perspective as doctor and as governor, when my sister's family adopted a child who for his first eight years had been the victim of domestic abuse.
I think it was then I fully realized that what I'd seen in the emergency room was only the tip of the iceberg, and that the unseen scars of domestic violence are far more deadly -- both to the victims and to society.
Yet today I can report that in the last year my newest nephew has made remarkable progress toward learning a new set of values and behaviors, which shows that healing is possible.
It's possible, yes. But why should it be necessary? Isn't the best solution is to prevent domestic violence from happening in the first place?
In my State of the State speech last January, I referred to American writer James Agee, who said that in every child who is born, no matter of what parents and no matter in what circumstances, the potential of the human race is born again. But when you stop to think about it, that statement can be read in two ways. Humans have great potential for good -- but also the potential for its opposite. They are capable of achieving great things, but they are also capable of committing the most unspeakable atrocities.
Domestic violence is among the worst of these. But it doesn't just come out of nowhere. It has a beginning. And we must somehow keep trying to stem it at its source, which means starting at the beginning, with our children. It means teaching them nonviolence, not merely as a strategy, but as a way of life. And let it be clear: the social and monetary costs of failing to do so cannot be measured.
If a child is beaten by his parents, he may end up in prison, hurting innocent victims and spending tax dollars that could be used instead for parks, for roads, for kindergartens, for universities.
If a child is sexually abused, she is more likely to become a teen mother without the resources to be an effective parent, creating another potential abuser in her child.
Worst of all, many of these children end up dead, which ends their potential altogether. I take no pride in the fact that here in Oregon, we have the second highest per capita rate of child abuse deaths in the nation. We have one of the highest rates of children in foster care. And in the last fifteen years, the number of cases being handled by the state's Services to Children and Families has doubled.
I find that totally unacceptable. But it is not something government alone can solve. It will take the combined efforts of all of us. Your own efforts, your dedication to this cause, your determination to address every aspect of domestic violence with all the means at your disposal, sets a worthy example and is clearly a step in the right direction.
Another step in the right direction is the "Hands are not for Hurting" project, which I know is not directly a part of this Conference, but is certainly a companion to it. Throughout Oregon, and even beyond our borders, school children are voluntarily pledging not to use their hands -- or their words -- to hurt themselves or others.
The program is now being introduced into hospital obstetrics wards, where new parents are given the opportunity to make the same pledge: to raise their children in an atmosphere of nonviolence which they themselves will model. In fact, as some of you know, my wife and I may have been the first new parents in Oregon to make that pledge, and Sharon and I consider it an honor to lead the way in this respect.
Children are our greatest resource. They are also our most accurate record. Not only do they carry within them the shape of tomorrow, they also bear witness to our own values and choices. They are the living messages we send to a time we won't be around to see. So it's our responsibility to see that they are nurtured in infancy, protected and trained during childhood, and guided through adolescence, so that they will emerge as positive, productive adults capable of making the world a better place.
We must continue to raise public awareness of domestic violence. We must continue to provide support for its victims -- whoever they may be. But unless we can somehow reach children and set their feet on a path which precludes violence of any kind, the scourge of domestic violence will never end.
Martin Luther King, Jr., writing about the effects of nonviolence, said:
"The nonviolent approach does not immediately change the heart of the oppressor. It first does something to the hearts and souls of those committed to it. It gives them new self-respect; it calls up resources of strength and courage that they did not know they had. Finally it reaches the opponent and so stirs his conscience that reconciliation becomes a reality."
That is the kind of future world I hope we may someday attain. And with the continued efforts of people like you, I believe it is possible to get there.
Thank you for inviting me to be here this morning and let me assure
you of my ongoing support.