Congressman Burton speaks out on domestic violence

Congressman Burton

Angela Cain/Eyewitness News

For the fifth consecutive summer, Channel 13 is shattering the silence on domestic abuse. Abuse can be physical, mental or verbal, and it impacts one in four American families.

Indiana Congressman Dan Burton shares his shattering story of childhood abuse that first made news headlines decades ago. 

Burton is at home in the spotlight on the Capitol Hill stage in Washington D.C where the Committee on Government and Oversight comes to order. 

Decades removed from the domestic violence that darkened his days in his Indianapolis home, the 13-term U.S. Representative is now in a powerful political position - a far cry from his younger years.

"My dad - he beat me and my mom all the time. I thought he'd killed my mom several times," Burton shared 

Burton felt powerless as a little boy watching his beloved mom Bonnie brutally beaten by his father Charles.

"In the middle of the night, he'd start beating on her and she would throw a lamp through the window and start screaming for help, bloody screams, blood-curdling, and you'd wake up seven, eight years old scared to death, and the police never came," Burton remembered. 

With nowhere to go, Congressman Burton says his mom lived through 12 years of terror in the 1940s and 50s when people rarely spoke about domestic violence. 

"Back in those days, I think they had the attitude that the women were pretty much the property of a man, and if a man beat her, there was a reason for it, and the police stayed out of it," said Burton. 

Congressman Burton says his abusive dad also turned his anger on him frequently. "He beat me with a policeman's belt buckle."

Burton calls his mother a tiny angel as she often saved him from his 6'8'' father.

"She was 5 feet and she would stand between the two of us and take the blows that I was going to get, so she was a wonderful woman," Burton praised her. 

One day, she took her children and finally left his dad.  Bonnie and her children went to her mother's home where they hid fearfully.

"He kicked the door in and came in with a shotgun and said he was going to kill her," Burton recalled. "She wouldn't get up, and he literally picked her up and carried her out with a shotgun."

It was June of 1950. The story made the headlines of the Indianapolis newspapers - "Husband kidnaps wife."

"They had a three-state search for him."

Out of exhaustion, Burton's dad fell asleep on a country road in Tennessee, and his mother escaped.

"I think if that hadn't happened he probably would have killed her."

Charles Burton spent time in prison where he was punished for resisting arrest, assault and battery.

The Burton family seldom heard from him again. He died decades ago, and Congressman Burton's mother Bonnie moved on to a happy second marriage.

Dan, his brother and sister had happier teenage years, but behind the perfect pictures pain pulsates years later.

"People who grow up in an abusive house environment, they have a tendency to become abusive themselves," Burton said. 

Did the Congressman ever fight a tendency to follow in his father's footsteps?

"Yeah, I think I did, I think I did - like anybody that's been through that sort of thing, but I never beat up on anybody.  I never beat up on my wifel; my first wife who is gone now. In retrospect, there's a lot of things I would have changed about the way I treated her, but I never, ever did that."

And he says he has a hatred for any man who abuses a woman."I hope I never see you doing it because if I've got a ball bat near me or something, I'm gonna take you on. I don't care who you are."

Congressman Burton says we should all take a stand against domestic abuse. "I think it's extremely important, like what you're doing, to raise the awareness of not only women, but the entire citizenry about domestic violence."

Burton has come a long way from living with domestic violence, day in and day out.  The Congressman is happily married again, and he thinks his abusive past which has prepared him for the present.

"In retrospect, I think all those things made me a stronger person," Burton said. "

Congressman Burton will be in Indiana this weekend.  He's hosting a Violence Against Women Summit this Saturday in Marion at Indiana Wesleyan University which begins at 10 am. 

If you are in an abusive relationship, call 926-HELP.  

Shattering the Silence