“You’re so stupid.” “Why can’t you ever do anything right?” “You’re a mess, and ugly, too. I don’t know why I ever married you.” Such comments, or worse, sometimes accompanied by slaps, hits, pushing, or worse, are just a few examples of behavior that is called domestic violence. Domestic violence commonly is defined as a pattern of coercive behaviors used by an individual to gain and maintain power and control over another individual, in the context of an intimate, dating, or familial relationship. It typically is not a one-time, isolated incident, but a pattern of dangerous behaviors that can escalate over time.
Domestic violence, and its effect on the community, was the featured topic at the annual luncheon of the Fairfax Area League of Women Voters last week. During a lively discussion, prompted by attorney Mehagen McRae’s thoughtful keynote address, attendees learned that nearly one-third of all women in the United States will report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives. Although the overwhelming majority of domestic violence victims are women, men and children also can be victims of abuse.
Black eyes and broken bones may indicate domestic violence abuse, but many forms of domestic violence leave no physical scars. Sexual violence, direct and implied threats of violence, emotional and psychological intimidation, isolation, economic and financial control, and even spiritual abuse, are all examples of coercive behaviors. Domestic violence is not about sex; it is about power and control. Some common examples are: pushing, shoving, punching, kicking; trying to make you perform sexual acts against your will, calling you sexually degrading names; extreme jealousy or possessiveness, physical or social isolation, intimidation, degradation, or humiliation.
In 2009, the most recent year for which data is available, Fairfax County police responded to 7,937 domestic-related calls for service, and made 1,685 arrests for domestic violence. Nearly 2,000 emergency family abuse protective orders were issued by the Magistrate’s Office, and the Victim Assistance Network responded to 1,628 crisis calls. The county’s Women’s Shelter, Artemis House, has only 34 beds, making it difficult to find emergency respite and safety for some victims.
Several years ago, Fairfax County developed a comprehensive approach to address domestic violence and the damage it does to families and the community. The effort drew together county staff, police and court officers, non-profit human service organizations, and others to develop a “Coordinated Community Response” to reduce and eliminate domestic violence in Fairfax County. The Domestic Violence Policy, Prevention and Coordinating Council is chaired by the County Executive. In 2009, the new workplace violence policy for county government was recognized by the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance as the most comprehensive in the Commonwealth.
If you are a victim of domestic violence, or you are afraid you may become a victim, get help NOW. Call the Victim Assistance Network hotline at 703/360-7273, or the Women’s Shelter at 703/435-4940. These emergency hotlines are staffed 24 hours a day and provide confidential crisis counseling, emotional support, and information about available resources. On-line information is available at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dsm/dviolence/faqs.htm. Domestic violence is a crime. If you are in immediate danger, call 911.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org