Good morning. Here in Washington, after months of partisan delay by the congressional majority, Congress still hasn't completed its work on the budget, even though the budget year ended a month ago.
Yet, when Congress has acted in a spirit of bipartisanship, we've made remarkable progress. Today I want to talk to you about the most significant step we've ever taken to secure the health and safety of women at home and around the world. It's a new law I'm signing called the "Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act."
In America today, domestic violence is the number one health risk for women between the ages of 15 and 44. Close to a third of all women murdered in this country were killed by their husbands, former husbands, or boyfriends. Every 12 seconds another woman is beaten. That's nearly 900,000 victims every year. And statistics tell us that in half the families where a spouse is beaten, the children are beaten, too.
Domestic violence is a criminal activity. It devastates its victims and affects us all. It increases health costs, keeps people from showing up to work, prevents them from performing at their best. It destroys families, relationships, and lives, and it tears at the fabric of who we are as a people.
That's why, as part of our 1994 crime bill, Al Gore and I fought hard to pass the landmark Violence Against Women Act—the foundation of the bill I will be signing. That law imposed tough new penalties for actions of violence against women. It helped to train police, prosecutors, and judges to better understand domestic violence, to recognize its symptoms when they see them, and to take steps to prevent them. It gave grants to shelters that are havens for victims of domestic violence, and it set up a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week toll-free national hotline to help women get the emergency assistance and counseling they need, to find a shelter, and to report abuse to the authorities.
Most of all, the Violence Against Women Act worked. The hotline has been a tremendous help. More than half a million victims have found assistance by calling it. Police officers who once shied away from so-called family squabbles are now getting involved in saving lives. Best of all, violence against women by an intimate partner has fallen 21 percent since 1993.
The bill I'm signing will keep that progress going by keeping the Violence Against Women Act the law of the land. It provides new resources for Native American communities, restores protections for battered immigrant women, and, for the first time, extends the law to cover women abused by their boyfriends.
The new law contains another provision, too, one that will strengthen our fight against the insidious global practice of trafficking in human beings. Every year, a million or more women, children, and men are forced or tricked into lives of utter misery—into prostitution, sweatshop work, domestic or farm labor, or debt bondage. This is slavery, plain and simple. And it's not just something that happens far from our shores. In fact, each year as many as 50,000 people are brought to the United States for this cruel purpose. We must do our part to stop those responsible for these crimes and to help their victims.
The bill I'm signing will help to do that. It establishes the first Federal law that specifically targets this problem, setting out harsh penalties for those who trade in human beings, requiring convicted traffickers to forfeit their assets and make restitution to those they have exploited. The law gives victims better access to services like shelters, counseling, and medical care. It enables victims to stay in the United States so they can receive those services and helps law enforcement agencies to prosecute the traffickers. It increases our assistance to other countries, as well, to help them detect and punish this pernicious practice, and it provides for sanctions for any countries that refuse to take steps to end trafficking in women and children. I worked hard for these provisions. They build on what we've been doing at home and abroad to address the problem.
We see in the success of this landmark legislation once again that there is no real secret to getting things done in Washington. When we put progress over partisanship, we get results. When we work together, we get results.
Now, we've shown once again we can work together by passing this landmark legislation to fight violence against women. Let's follow the rule and finish all the work the American people expect of us. It's time for Congress to set partisanship aside on the last two unfinished bills and complete a budget with smaller class sizes, modern classrooms, family tax cuts, and a higher minimum wage—one that honors our values and secures a better future for our children and our great Nation.
Thanks for listening.