Oprah Winfrey lobbies for child-sexual abuse bill Celebrity rallies for cause that she knows well.

November 26, 1991|By Knight-Ridder

WASHINGTON -- Celebrities come to Washington all the time. They testify about some legislation or other, and in the stately Capitol Hill office buildings, congressional staffers line up outside the hearing rooms, autograph pads in hands.

When the star leaves, however, everything returns to the way it was. The legislation that brought them here bogs down in committee or gets "marked up," or amended, and forgotten.

But when Oprah Winfrey came to Washington yesterday, the reaction was different.

"Usually, these celebrities come in with their scripts, and then you never see them again," said Rep. Patricia Schroeder, D-Colo. "But she has done a lot of study, and she's said, 'This is just the beginning.' "

For starters, Winfrey took the time -- and the money -- to hire a high-powered Washington public relations firm, Ruder, Finn, as well as a couple of well-connected lawyers. One of them was former Illinois Gov. James R. Thompson.

Second, Winfrey was here to talk about a subject she knows personally -- child sexual abuse -- and to lobby for a specific piece of legislation that has been embraced by Republicans and Democrats: a national registry for child abusers.

The events that precipitated Winfrey's visit took place when she was 9 years old, when, she says, she was raped by a 19-year-old cousin. Five years later, she has related, an uncle sexually molested her.

Winfrey kept this information from all but one or two close friends, she said. Ten years ago, when working in Baltimore, a female caller told of being raped by a relative and of her family's not believing her. Winfrey almost revealed she, too, had been molested.

Winfrey ultimately did reveal on the air that she was an incest victim, but it was the abduction and murder this March of a 4-year-old Chicago girl that galvanized her into pushing for the registry at the suggestion of a guest.

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