Amy Goodman interviews one of the Senate’s leading advocates for changing the way both universities and the military respond to sexual violence — California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer. Boxer talks about her proposed bill to require advocates for sexual assault victims on college campuses, her plans to retire from the Senate in 2016, and why she supports President Obama’s campaign against the Islamic State. "War is a last resort, never a first resort," Boxer says. "I don’t support going to war and sending combat troops. I support President Obama’s plan, which is not to do that, but to make sure we can help people fight against this terror group."
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. We’ve just seen a film called The Hunting Ground, about sexual assault on college campuses. One of the people who has championed the cause of the victims, the survivors, is Senator Barbara Boxer.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Thank you so much.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re introducing a bill around this issue.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us what it is?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Yes. There are two bills, essentially. One is a very broad, comprehensive bill, which is very important—it’s going to take a while to get done—by Kirsten Gillibrand. Mine is a very narrow, but important, bill that would say, until we stop this, we immediately need to have an advocate for the survivors on every single campus that gets federal funds. And that’s, by the way, every campus gets federal funds. So it would say, on all campuses, you need to have an independent advocate.
And what would that advocate do? They’d be available 24/7, so the minute something horrible happens, someone would have an advocate by their side, telling them their rights, putting an arm around them, leading them to the hospital, making sure the forensics were done, letting them know their legal options, and stay with them throughout the entire process.
And what’s exciting to me is, I know how long it takes to get things through this particular Congress, so I took this idea to all my campuses, my public campuses in California. And they have agreed to do this. And it’s exciting. The UC system, the state system and the community college system.
AMY GOODMAN: And the larger bill that Senator Gillibrand has introduced?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Yes. Well, it’s going to take a while, because it really changes the penalties if a college doesn’t really report the truth. It’s pretty broad. And it gives them disincentives not to report. It’s a little more controversial, but I think we can get it done, because these stories are unbelievable. This is an epidemic when 20 percent of the women in college campuses are being attacked. And men are being attacked, too, not in those large numbers, but, still and all, it’s happening to them, too.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, this is also an issue you’ve taken on in the military.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Oh, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the progress you did or didn’t make—
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —around sexual assault in the military?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: We have made a lot of progress in the military, but not enough progress. What Kirsten and I wanted to have happen—and we did get bipartisan support for it—was to take the whole handling of sexual assault in the military outside the chain of command, keep it in the military, but give it to professional prosecutors who were not in the chain of command. A lot of times, the commander himself was the one perpetrating. A lot of the times the commander knew who was perpetrating and put "order and discipline," in quotes, ahead of justice. So, we didn’t get that part done.
But let me tell you what we did get done. I had a bill that did—was signed into law, that when there’s questioning of a woman who does report a case, you have to not ask her questions like, "Did you wear a provocative dress? Have you—how many sexual partners have you had?" That’s all out. You can’t do it in a civilian grand jury, and now you can’t do it in the military. Other things that were done is making sure there’s an advocate for the complainant. So, we have made progress, but the big and most important reform, we haven’t made yet, which is to take the reporting outside the chain of command.
AMY GOODMAN: And interestingly, one of your biggest opponents was another woman, another Democrat, Senator McCaskill.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Yes, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain why you disagreed on that?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Yes. Well, first of all, women are not joined at the hip. We have to understand that. They see things differently. And Claire, I think, was wrong; she thinks I’m wrong. And it’s respectful. But it did hurt us, because out of the 20 women in the Senate, bipartisan, we had 17, she had three. And those three could have made a big difference. So, it’s a sadness for me, but it’s her right to have a different opinion.
AMY GOODMAN: Many of those in the film, or a number of the survivors, the victims of rape and sexual assault, were from the University of California system—
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —whether it was University of Southern California, UC Berkeley, San Diego, Santa Barbara.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Well, USC is a private college, it’s not in the UC system. So let me make that clear. They’re a private college, and they have some answering to do. And also, the UC system has some answering to do, you’re absolutely right. Santa Barbara was mentioned, UC Berkeley. I think what’s important, as the makers of this film have said, they could have chosen any campus. So, the reason I went to my campuses is I knew they were going to be mentioned in this, and I wanted to get out ahead of it, and I wanted them to start to respond.
And I’m very proud to say—you know, as a senator, you can pass legislation, and you can also use your office as a bully pulpit. And a lot of times my staff will have meetings and will say, "Let’s talk about the bully pulpit today." And what I did was I used the bully pulpit to go to the UC system, the state system, the community college system, and said, "Don’t wait for us to pass this law. Do it now." And they agreed. Now the question is follow-through, and I’m going to make a tour of these campuses in the spring to make sure that they are doing this advocacy.
AMY GOODMAN: Have you spoken to the chancellor, for example, about it?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: I have spoken to, absolutely, Janet Napolitano, who is the head of the entire UC system, and they have many, many campuses and hundreds of thousands of students. And she’s really on board with this. I’m excited about it. And, you know, California, we’re just a leader in a lot of ways, and I’m hoping we’ll be a leader on this.
AMY GOODMAN: Senator Boxer, speaking of the bully pulpit, you’re giving it up. Why?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: I’m not giving up the bully pulpit in any way, shape or form. You have a bully pulpit right here. The person asking the questions has a bully pulpit. There are different bully pulpits. So, I have been in elected office for 40 years. And the truth of the matter is, I wouldn’t have left if I didn’t think we had a wonderful deep bench of progressives in California. And I wouldn’t have left if I didn’t think we had a really good bench of progressives in the United States Senate. I feel really good, because the issues I’ve given my life to on the progressive side are so important, and they will be carried on. But I’m going to be—I’m not retiring in any way. I made that point. I’m going to be working. I don’t know exactly how, where and what, but I’m going to be helping other people. I hope to help Hillary Clinton become the first woman president in 2016. And I have a very full agenda, for the rest of my life, as long as I’m standing here and I’m not horizontal.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, you’re still standing in the Senate, and the Senate just voted, about half of the Senate, that climate change is not caused by humanity, by humankind. Can you comment on this? The environment is one of your big issues.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Well, it’s just a joke. I mean, we offered all kinds of amendments. The Keystone pipeline is being looked at right now. And that is a big wet kiss to the Canadian oil interests and the Koch brothers, who own a lot of land up there. This is the filthiest, dirtiest oil. We don’t need it. It has a trail of misery that accompanies it, from the excavation through the pipeline, if there’s a spill. You know, there’s a spill in Michigan that still hasn’t been cleaned up for years. It’s dangerous. And then, when you refine it in Texas, people get really sick. And then they’re going to export it. We’re not even going to keep it.
So, in relation to that bill, we had one victory. Senator Whitehouse had an amendment that said climate change is not a hoax. It passed 98 to one. So I guess they think it’s not a hoax. But now they say, "OK, we agree, it’s not a hoax, but it is not caused by human activities," which goes up against 98 percent of scientists. You know, if you look back at the struggle we had on tobacco and the dangers of tobacco, honestly, the same people who conducted a disinformation campaign on tobacco are involved in this disinformation campaign. And the Union of Concerned Scientists did an amazing investigatory report, and they told us that. We are really up against it. This is a tragedy for our grandkids. The New York Times recently ran a report that scientists are saying the choice now is between a unpleasant planet or an uninhabitable planet. That’s what we’re left with. So now we have to work for an unpleasant planet. But God help us if we don’t win that battle.
AMY GOODMAN: Does the issue come down to money in politics and politicians, both Democrat and Republican, being beholden to the largest monied interests, and so often it’s the oil, it’s the gas, it’s the coal industry?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: I don’t think there is any question that special interests aren’t behind this. Otherwise, why would somebody take a stand against 98 percent of scientists? But I think if you look at the Democrats in the Senate, even those who support the Keystone pipeline, they admit that climate change is real, and they’re willing to work. It’s the Republicans that refuse to sit down with us and do anything about it. And it’s really sad, because when you really attack climate change and you really invest in alternative energies, eventually we’re going to see lower prices for everything, because we’re going to have energy efficiency, is the word of the day. And we’re going to see millions of jobs created as we put solar rooftops on and turn to wind generation. So, it’s a tragedy right now. And I’m proud of the president. He is not giving in. Do you know they tried to cancel the agreement with China that the president agreed? If we don’t have an agreement with China, the number one polluter, I don’t know what the world is going to look like.
AMY GOODMAN: President Obama said in his State of the Union address he’s calling for authorization to attack the Islamic State, ISIS, ISIL.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Uh-huh, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: I’m wondering your thoughts? Years ago, it was your colleague, Barbara Lee, who stood alone in the Congress—
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —and said no to the authorization for war after 9/11. What way will you vote?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Oh, I disagreed with Barbara on that, and I still strongly do. I don’t think you sit back when people are cutting off the heads of Americans. I’ve already voted to give the president authority to wage an anti-terror campaign against ISIL, because they are dangerous to humankind. And, you know, some people are pacifists. Barbara, I believe, is a pacifist. And I vote—you know, when I’ve been confronted with these terribly difficult decisions, half the time I’ve said absolutely no to war, and half the time I’ve said it’s a last resort, and it needs to happen. And I think this threat by ISIL is a massive threat, and I think it threatens us all. And so, I’m not putting boots on the ground. I would never vote to put boots on the ground. But there are ways we can help others fight back, so that they don’t have to sit there while their girls have acid thrown in their face and their heads cut off. I’m just not going to do it. Can’t do it.
AMY GOODMAN: But if you look at Iraq and the years that the U.S. has been there, there’s no question there’s a massive problem, but the U.S. has been at war there for well over a decade. Is there another way to deal with this, like the root causes of the violence?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Well, I was a leader in the antiwar movement on the Iraq War. That was—I think it will go down as the biggest error that has ever been made, you know, in history. But when it comes to this threat of these terrorists, that’s different. I’m not talking about boots on the ground. I’m not talking about going to war. I’m talking about not sitting back while we have people who are—who are so frightening, that they steal women, and they make them sex slaves, and they marry little girls, and then they put suicide vests on them. I am not going to sit back. And Barbara Lee, I adore her—
AMY GOODMAN: You’re talking about Boko Haram in Nigeria.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: I’m talking about terrorists today. And I could tell you, Barbara Lee, I adore Barbara, but we just don’t agree on this.
AMY GOODMAN: But as a leader of the peace movement, you see that diplomacy is not doing nothing.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Well, you want to do—what do you want to do? Do you want to give money to ISIL so they won’t cut off the head of the Japanese hostage? They’re asking $200 million. I don’t think so. So, you know, how do you negotiate with people who want to cut your head off? I just don’t see it.
AMY GOODMAN: What about looking—
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: So, let me just say, as a leader in what I call the peace movement, because I’ve been ever since Vietnam, I think if someone sits back and allows people like this, who don’t value human life, who enslave women, who rape women, who throw acid in the faces of women, if we can’t stand up to that—sure, if there’s a diplomatic way, you do that. War is a last resort, not a first resort. But for me to stand here and say I’m going to do nothing about ISIL, I think I would—I would be dead wrong.
AMY GOODMAN: But isn’t standing up to that perhaps looking behind that—for example, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. support of Saudi Arabia?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Well, look, if you won’t be—you and I just disagree, so why do we cut it off? It seems to me that you don’t see any reason ever to confront people who are uncivilized, who don’t care one stitch about your life or mine, who would just as soon cut off your head as say "good morning."
AMY GOODMAN: No, but what about cutting off their support?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: And let me—you’re asking me a question. And I don’t support them. As a matter of fact, I already voted to give the president authority to go after them. So why don’t we leave it at that? And as far as trying to find out the root causes of why they are the way you are, I’ll leave that to you. I’m a senator. My people are threatened, and I’m going to take action. War is the last resort, never a first resort. I don’t support going to war and sending combat troops. I support President Obama’s plan, which is not to do that, but to make sure that we can help people fight against this terror group, which is so frightening and so frightening to humankind. Thank you so much.
AMY GOODMAN: Senator Boxer, final question.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: How do you want to be remembered in the Senate?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Well, I’m not going to tell you that now, because I’ve got two more years left. I’ll come on the show again, and we’ll go over it then.
AMY GOODMAN: I will invite you. Thanks so much.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: All right. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: California Senator Barbara Boxer. Earlier this month, she announced she is retiring from the Senate in 2016. We’re here in Park City, Utah, at Park City TV at the Sundance Film Festival. When we come back, Egypt. Stay with us.