Rep. Moore Discusses Stunning House Speech

During a debate over the Violence Against Women Act last week, the Wisconsin Democrat told her own history of surviving sexual assault and violence. Rep. Moore speaks with host Michel Martin about her story and why she thinks the Violence Against Women Act deserves bipartisan support. (Advisory: This segment may not be suitable for all audiences.)

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now, we are going to hear how one woman turned her own history as a survivor of sexual and domestic abuse into a platform to speak out for victims.

Congresswoman Gwen Moore stunned her colleagues last week, during a debate over the Violence Against Women Act. While the act passed with bipartisan support in 1994, many Republicans in the House and some in the Senate have expressed reluctance to reauthorize funding for the law.

Representative Moore, a Wisconsin Democrat, has been an advocate for social justice issues since her election in 1994, but when she took to the floor last week, she shared a very personal story. We'd like to caution you. This is a sensitive issue involving sensitive issues and some of this language may not be appropriate for all listeners.

Here is Congresswoman Moore on the floor of the House last week.

REPRESENTATIVE GWEN MOORE: But really brought up some terrible memories for me, of having, you know, boys sit in a locker room and sort of bet that I, the A kid, couldn't be had. And then the appointed boy, when he saw that I wasn't going to be so willing, completed a date rape and then took my underwear to display it to the rest of the boys. I mean, this is what American women are facing.

MARTIN: And Representative Gwen Moore joins us now. Thank you so much for joining us.

MOORE: Oh, thank you for having this conversation with me, Michel.

MARTIN: And can I just say how sorry I am that this happened to you?

MOORE: Thank you, Michel. Thank you. Thank you for that. And, you know, I wish I could say that this was - that I - this was rare and that I was the only woman who's ever experienced this. I think that the reason that I felt really compelled to raise this at that point, is because I think that there's a real risk that this bill won't be reauthorized before its expiration, shortly.

And I wanted to get away from the talking points and the poll tested words and phrases that we spend hours and hours and hours on to really raise the specter that the Violence Against Women Act has saved lives. And, you know, I wish that the story I told was just an isolated experience, but my experience has been that, literally, I have faced sexual assault and violence from a little bitty girl, all the way through up to adult life, even after I gave birth to my daughter. Because I think that violence against women is as American as apple pie.

I think that boys - that those boys that I talked about - didn't think they were doing anything wrong. I think they thought that this was their right to passage. I think that men who are assaulting their wives, or men in intimate relationships, arrogate to themselves the right, as a man, to do that.

And the Violence Against Women Act has been so critical because, number one, it provides funding for education, but it also provides funding for the really legal assistance programs that really enable a woman to get out of violent situations - transitional housing grants. And the Violence Against Women Act has been bipartisan since 1994.

MARTIN: Let me just jump in for just a minute, just to clarify that you were elected in 2004, not 1994.

MOORE: Yeah.

MARTIN: I just wanted to ask you, first of all - was it something that you had planned to talk about or was it just something that came out when you were listening to the debate on the floor and just felt like you had to say something to, kind of, make it more real to people? How did that happen?

MOORE: Well, I did have planned talking points that didn't include that story. But I can tell you, Michel, that the stress of Congress has worn on me with regard to all of the - just the preponderance of legislation that has been presented as an assault and a war on women, quite frankly; that this was yet another attempt by the majority party to thwart the health and well-being of women.

And so - no. I didn't plan to tell that story. But I can tell you, that I have been worn down over the past year, with the just steady drip and campaign against women's health and...

MARTIN: I'm sorry. I'm speaking with Congresswoman Gwen Moore. She's a Democrat from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We're talking about the Violence Against Women Act. And we are talking about some very personal and powerful remarks that she delivered on the floor of the House last week, in trying to gin up support to reauthorize funding for the act.

You know, Congresswoman, to that end, some of the Republicans who have spoken about this say that they approve of the core mission of the act, but they object to some of the provisions - like extending assistance to illegal immigrants or undocumented immigrants and same-sex couples. And they feel that it's unfair to portray them as anti-women because they say that they're trying to focus the funding and the act itself on what they believe its original intention was. How do you respond to that?

MOORE: As a survivor of a lot of violence against women, I can tell you that none of these programs were in place at a time, you know, that I was raped and beaten and battered. And, you know, I don't think that we should exclude any women from the protections of the Violence Against Womens Act.

If I were a lesbian, why wouldn't I deserve the protection of this law from, you know, a female perpetrator? If I live on - if I'm a Native American and I live on tribal lands, should a non-Native man be able to come on the tribal lands, beat me almost to death and then get away with it because we don't expand authority to the tribal lands in order to be able to use the resources of this bill in order to do that? Because those tribal courts don't have authority over non-tribal men.

If I'm an immigrant woman who is - and I am - Michel, I am cooperating with immigration authorities. Should I not have the protection and have to stay in hiding when I'm being battered, beaten and sexually assaulted? These provisions were not thrown in there in order to make a political statement about Republicans. These provisions were put in as a result of what we call best practices. People who have litigated these cases, people who have been advocates for these folk - they decided that these expansions were really important.

This bill is supported by the National Association of District Attorneys, the Order of Fraternal Police Associations and really credible advocacy groups and they weren't just thrown in as a way to embarrass Republicans.

MARTIN: I understand. Before we let you go, Congresswoman, we only have 30 seconds left and I apologize. You expressed concern about the tone of the debates that you've been hearing on the House. Do you think that your comments have made a difference at all, in changing the tenor of the conversation in any way?

MOORE: I want to have a real conversation. I hope it's changed the tenor of it because I'm going to continue to fight for this legislation. And I hope, by putting a face on the victims of violence, that we can move it forward.

MARTIN: Congresswoman Gwen Moore is a Democrat from Milwaukee. She represents Wisconsin's 4th Congressional District. She was kind enough to join us from member station WUWM in Milwaukee.

Congresswoman, thank you so much for joining us.

MOORE: And, please, have me again, Michel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Up next, does anybody expect athletes to act like Girl Scouts anymore? Maybe the new head of the WNBA, who comes to the job straight from an executive role with the Girl Scouts.

LAUREL RICHIE: The character of the players, I find, in the WNBA, that's actually a hallmark of our league and our players.

MARTIN: The new leader of the Women's National Basketball Association, Laurel Richie, is with us. That's in just a few minutes on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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