Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: The Honorable Christopher H. Smith
Co-Chairman - The Helsinki Commission

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Ladies and Gentleman, thank you for joining us today for a briefing on domestic violence in the OSCE region. The topic of today's briefing is one of first impression for the Helsinki Commission and is intended to shine a light on what is perhaps the most pervasive human rights abuse in the world.

In 1991 and again in 1999, the 55 States that participate in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) committed to address violence against women. Despite the long-standing commitments, to date the issue has not had a high profile in the work of the OSCE or, more importantly, in many of the OSCE countries themselves. In June of this year, the OSCE convened for the first time a one-day meeting in Vienna, Austria to raise among the national delegations awareness of the scope and severity of the problem of violence against women, including domestic violence, in the OSCE countries.

Domestic violence has been found to be a serious problem in every country where it has been studied, including many OSCE participating States. Research shows that women of all ages and of all socioeconomic and educational backgrounds are subject to domestic violence.

Statistics regarding the prevalence of domestic violence are staggering. According to the Department of Justice's National Violence Against Women Survey, published in July 2000:
Of the women who reported being raped and/or physically assaulted since the age of eighteen, three-quarters were victimized by a current or former husband, cohabiting partner, date or boyfriend.
Approximately 1.5 million women and nearly 835,000 men are raped and/or physically assaulted by an intimate partner annually in the United States.

Data from other researchers indicates that
Around the world, at least 1 in 3 women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime.
In this country, on average, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends every day.
In a national survey of more than 2,000 American families, 50 percent of the men who frequently assaulted their wives also frequently abused their children.

In other OSCE countries the problem is just as bad or worse. In Russia, for example, the government's statistics reveal that 14,000 women died in one year (1997) due to domestic violence. In Hungary, non-governmental organizations estimate that 150 women die each year at the hands of their husbands or boyfriends and hundreds more women take their own lives in order to escape abusive relationships. As appalling as these statistics are, research in the United States and worldwide indicates that many, perhaps most, instances of domestic violence are never reported to legal authorities so the statistics may not even tell just how pervasive this problem is.

Domestic violence infringes upon an individual's rights to life, to security of person, and to freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Despite the shocking statistics, and the obligation of governments to respond when an individual's human rights are under attack, individuals in many countries minimize the problem of domestic violence or even consider it a matter of private concern outside the purview of the legal system. Police routinely discourage women from making complaints against abusers, and abusers are rarely removed from their homes or jailed. The overwhelming response to domestic violence by the police, prosecutors and the courts is to urge women to reconcile with their abusers regardless of the potential danger this poses for the battered woman. In many countries, legal and social services for victims of domestic violence are lacking.

Last year I worked for the passage of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act which addressed the barbaric practice of trafficking women and children into forced prostitution and slavery-like labor and which also re-authorized the Violence Against Women Act. Upon enactment last October, this law authorized the spending of more than $3.3 billion over five years to protect women from rape, assault, abuse and battery. The re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act will provide assistance for victims of assault and abuse, and it emphasizes and expands the federal government's commitment to helping victims rebuild their lives without fear of retribution and retaliation.

Unfortunately, in spite of these efforts domestic violence continues to be a persistent problem in the United States as it is in every single OSCE participating State. We are fortunate to have with us today three individuals with extensive experience and insight into this problem. Our panelists approach the issue from different perspectives and have focused on different countries, but each is working diligently to raise awareness about the problem of domestic violence and to awaken the consciences of government officials and private citizens alike to address this very real problem.