Commentary: Responding to Domestic Violence

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month here in Virginia. It was designated as such by the General Assembly in 1989. As we begin the month, it is important to recognize what domestic violence is and how the physical and mental abuse forever damages the lives of the victims and their children in our community.

Domestic violence is typically a pattern of coercive behaviors used by an individual to gain or maintain power and control over another individual in the context of an intimate, dating, or familial relationship. Forms of domestic violence may be criminal (e.g. physical assault or stalking) or not (e.g. verbal abuse or financial control). In order to combat this crisis it is vital to promote awareness of domestic violence so victims know they are not alone and that there are local organizations that will protect their anonymity and ensure they receive the help they need.

As a first step, the General Assembly passed legislation in 1986 to create an organization dedicated to reducing domestic violence across the Commonwealth called the Family And Children’s Trust Fund (FACT). I served for eight years as a trustee of FACT, appointed by Governors Warner and Kaine. FACT was created to serve as a partnership between the public and private sectors to raise funds for the prevention and treatment of a wide spectrum of family violence. Today, it is a successful charitable organization raising hundreds of thousands of dollars annually and working within local communities across the Commonwealth to create a holistic approach to deal with domestic violence.

Domestic violence is one of the leading causes of poverty for families, and 57 percent of cities list domestic violence as the top cause of homelessness. This epidemic is especially prevalent among women. An astounding 92 percent of homeless women have experienced severe physical or sexual abuse at some point in their lives and 63 percent have been victims of intimate partner violence as adults. FACT provides financial assistance to support programs across the Commonwealth for the prevention, treatment, and awareness of domestic violence. Many local charities working here in the 44th district were awarded recipients of these grants over the past 30 years of FACT’s existence using those funds to empower victims towards self-sufficiency, permanent housing and in planning for their future free of abuse.

In 2016 in Fairfax alone, 1,605 emergency Protective Orders were issued against family or household members for acts of family abuse involving violence, force or threat, and 258 children were provided with Emergency Shelter with their parent or guardian. Every month, in Fairfax County domestic violence hotlines receive over 240 calls with apporximately a quarter of those victims requesting family abuse protective orders.

Many of us across the Commonwealth have seen the license plates featuring a child’s handprint and the caption “KIDS FIRST” or a license with a simple heart. Sale of these plates are the most successful effort to provide the necessary funds for FACT to continue to help community-based efforts. I encourage residents to support this worthy cause, by purchasing a “KIDS FIRST” or any Family and Children’s Trust Fund specialty license plate through the DMV, or participate in the tax write-off program or send tax deductible contributions to FACT’s office in Richmond.

To report a crime, call the Fairfax County Police Department at 703-691-2131 or, for emergencies, please call 911. If you or someone you know is experiencing any form of domestic violence, and you want to talk about options and resources available, call the 24-hour Domestic & Sexual Violence Hotline at 703-360-7273.

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