Press Release of U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer

For Immediate Release:
September 19, 2013  
Washington D.C. Office (202) 224-3553

Boxer Delivers Keynote Address on Ending Gender-Based Violence  

Senator Highlights Ongoing Efforts to Combat Violence Against Women Internationally and in the Armed Forces

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) today delivered the keynote address at “A Call to Action: Taking a Stand Against Gender-Based Violence,” a special event hosted by The New Republic and CARE, where she underscored the need to end violence against women at home and abroad.

One in three women worldwide will be a survivor of gender-based violence in her lifetime. Senator Boxer has been at the forefront of efforts to combat violence against women and girls, and chairs the first Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee that focuses specifically on global women’s issues.

This week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved the Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act, legislation Senator Boxer introduced to expand scholarship opportunities for disadvantaged women in Pakistan. The bill is named after Malala Yousafzai, a 16-year-old Pakistani girl who has been an outspoken advocate for girls’ education in Pakistan and who gained international attention for her blog documenting the Taliban’s crackdown on the rights of women and girls.

In May, Senator Boxer joined Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) in introducing the Military Justice Improvement Act to address the epidemic of sexual assault in the military by removing the decision to prosecute these crimes from the chain of command.

The following are her remarks as prepared for delivery:

In Okinawa, a 19-year-old Marine named Stacey Thompson was drugged and brutally raped by a male Sergeant from her own unit.

She told me how her rapist abandoned her at 4 a.m. the next morning in front of a local night club, forcefully pushing her out of the car and leaving her alone on the street.

Stacey made the courageous decision to report the rape to her superiors, but her allegations were swept under the rug. While her attacker was allowed to leave the Marine Corps without ever facing trial, Stacey became the target of a drug investigation stemming from the night of her rape, and was separated from the Marine Corps with an Other Than Honorable Discharge.

Fourteen years later, Stacey still has to sleep with the lights on. But she bravely joined me at a press conference to speak out about the injustice she faced – and to demand justice for other survivors of military sexual assault.

And she is not alone.

On the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, a 20-year-old Native American woman named Leslie Ironroad had just moved to town and went to a party nearby.

By the next morning, Leslie had been brutally raped and locked in a bathroom. At the hospital, she told the police the names of her attackers.

Leslie died a week later. No one investigated her rape. No one at the party was even questioned. And no one was held accountable for her death.

And she is not alone.

In Pakistan, 15 masked Taliban gunmen attacked a school bus of young girls, and shot a 15-year-old in the head and neck. She was rushed to the hospital with critical injuries to her brain and skull. She was unconscious and breathing with the help of a ventilator. Many feared she would not survive.

It wasn’t an accident. They targeted her because she had dared to speak out against the Taliban’s vicious crackdown on women’s rights and education in Pakistan. She had dared to dream of becoming a doctor and wanted to give a voice to the millions of women and girls like her in her country. But the Taliban couldn’t tolerate that.

They wanted to silence her voice permanently.

Of course, the world now knows her name—Malala. Incredibly—after many surgeries—she made a full recovery and intensified her fight for education for all.

But, tragically the Taliban has continued its reign of terror, bombing schools and slaughtering young schoolgirls on the streets.

And that is why this event is so important – because we must all call attention to gender- based violence wherever it occurs and raise up the voices of women who are too often ignored or silenced.

Sometimes it can feel too painful to hear their cries.

I’m going to be very honest. Even though I have championed women’s rights and women’s equality my entire career, there have been times in the past when I closed my eyes because what I saw was just too heartbreaking.

But no more. None of us can afford to look away any longer.

Not when 35 percent of women around the globe experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetimes.

Not when one in six women in the United States will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape.

Not when the Defense Department estimates that there were 26,000 sexual assaults in the U.S. military last year alone – and only 10 percent were even reported, let alone prosecuted.

And, no, we cannot afford to look away when one in three Native American women will be raped in her lifetime.

All too often, we remain silent – even when we know that there are changes that can be made to protect women like Stacey, like Leslie, and like Malala.

Recently, the United Nations released a study on men and violence in Asian and Pacific countries.

The results were staggering. Of those polled in China, 23 percent of men admitted to committing at least one rape. In Papua New Guinea, the figure was an incomprehensible 61 percent.

The most common reason given for why the men committed rape was that they believed they were entitled to sex, including from their wives or other romantic partners. The second most common reason was because they were bored or looking for some kind of entertainment. The third most common reason was out of anger or a desire to inflict punishment.

The overwhelming majority of these men did not face any legal consequences for their actions.

This clearly illustrates why it is so important that we work for change on a number of fronts. We must not only shine a light on these atrocities, but work to change attitudes, cultures, and laws.

This week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved a bill I wrote and named after Malala.

This bill pays tribute to Malala’s vision for her country by reinforcing the U.S. commitment to girl’s education in Pakistan.

Specifically, the bill ensures that 50 percent of scholarships the United States provides in Pakistan are awarded to women.

I hope you will help me ensure that Congress passes S.120 to send a message to the Taliban that we not only reject their vision for women, but that we plan to directly counter them by sending more girls to school.

In the coming weeks, I plan to re-introduce the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA). We are working hard to build a bipartisan coalition for this bill, because this should not be a partisan issue. I hope you will help me with this as well.

That legislation codifies in law the establishment of the United States Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues and the Global Women’s Issues Office at the State Department.

IVAWA would also require the State Department to identify countries with high levels of violence against women and to work to develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to prevent and respond to violence.

I am very proud of the work of the Obama Administration—including Secretary Clinton and Secretary Kerry—on this front, but I think it is critical that we pass IVAWA to ensure ending violence against women internationally remains a priority.

We need to continue to push these issues.

We cannot fail to speak out about the many failures that cause 14 million girls to be forced into child marriage each and every year—including the 15-year-old in Afghanistan who was tortured and imprisoned by her 30-year-old husband and his family.

We cannot stay silent in the face of a violent gang rape of a 5-year-old girl in Pakistan, or against the continuing atrocities against women in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

That is why I am so pleased with the work that the UN is doing through UN Women and with the work of the United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.

I proudly supported both the establishment of UN Women and the Special Representative position.

Because if we fail to shine a light on these atrocities and to push for meaningful reforms, we are complicit in allowing this violence to continue.

We must also work to address the epidemic of military sexual assault right here in the United States.

That is why I have partnered with Senators Gillibrand, Collins and a bipartisan coalition of my colleagues to write legislation that strikes at the very heart of this issue.

As some of you may know, 90 percent of all military sexual assaults go unreported.

And we know why—because victims of this heinous crime are afraid they will face retaliation or even threats to their safety, and they don’t trust that justice will be served.

Victims of sexual assault know the truth: the military justice system gives commanders with limited legal knowledge the power to decide whether these cases are tried in court.

Our legislation would put these complex legal decisions where they should be: in the hands of high-ranking, trained, independent military prosecutors so that the decision to go to trial is fair and objective and outside the chain of command.

Survivors of military sexual assault have told us that they have lost faith in the military justice system.

That is why we need real change—because our brave service men and women deserve more than empty promises, they deserve a system where justice is actually served.

In February, Congress passed bipartisan legislation reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)—recognizing that all women deserve protections from violence.

VAWA strengthens critical protections and services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. It also includes important improvements in how our nation responds to violence against Native Americans, LGBT individuals, and college students – something we accomplished despite incomprehensible opposition from some in Congress.

Specifically, VAWA gives Tribal courts the authority to prosecute cases of domestic violence against Native American women on reservations by non-Native men—an authority that did not exist until now. This new law ensures that Native American women can no longer be raped with impunity.

Those of us who are so blessed with voices and the power to be heard must speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves.

As we gather at this event today, somewhere there is a little girl who worries whether she will be safe on her way to school. Somewhere there is a woman scared to leave her home because she fears that she will be raped or disfigured with acid. Somewhere there is a soldier who worries that she will be attacked in her barracks – not by the enemy, but by someone in her own unit.

Albert Einstein once said, “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”

Let us directly challenge these evils. Let us raise up the voices of the victims. Let us answer their calls for help. And, every day, in ways big and small, let us make their struggles our own.

Thank you very much.