Peggy Sullivan learns more about domestic violence every day.
The community outreach coordinator recently received a call from a woman whose husband liked to "play with guns."
"She had been in an abusive situation for two years, then she had a child," Sullivan said. "Her husband … forced a gun into their 18-month-old's face, leaving a circular mark from the gun. That's when she sought help."
Every 13 minutes, a call is made to a domestic service hotline, according to Jane Woods, Virginia secretary of health and human services. "Family violence is a tragedy that is part of every part of every community, every socio-economic group of Virginia and in the nation," said Woods.
Woods and Sullivan both spoke during a day-long summit at George Mason University last Friday, April 23 to address the intergenerational cycle of violence in families.
"THE COURAGE to make a difference always begins with a vision of what can be," Woods said. "When children see that older people are treated with dignity and not treated with violence, it will be a further step to see that the cycle of violence is broken."
More than 3,400 children stayed in domestic violence shelters in 2001 in Virginia and more than half of these children witnessed an act of violence, according to the Office of the Attorney General. 3.3 million children in the United States are at risk for witnessing family violence.
Witnessing family violence is "incredibly devastating on the life of a child," said Ivan K. Tolbert, another panelist at the summit.
"Too often children in such situations feel trapped. Sometimes, they feel alone and hopeless and feel the only option is to give up, give in and succumb. They come to blame themselves," said Tolbert, program manager of the Governor's Office for Substance Abuse Prevention and KidSAfe Virginia.
"SOME CHILDREN never experience a day when they don't wake up and spend a day with violence," Woods said.
And cycles of violence perpetuate themselves through generations.
Sullivan told the audience at George Mason University that one young woman, who had been abused most of her life, called when her mother hit her over her head with a frying pan right before her 17th birthday. After years of violence at home, she then found herself in relationships with abusive boyfriends, Sullivan said.
Toni Clemons Porter reminded participants of the conference that domestic violence isn't limited to spouses, partners and children. Senior citizens who are dependent on others for some of their care are also vulnerable. One senior citizen, Porter reported, had been repeatedly dropped in a bathtub and dragged to bed by her hair by the caretaker hired to assist her.
"She had been in that situation for so long, she didn't know a way out," Porter said.
"It isn't a ‘school’ problem, it isn't a ‘mom and dad’ problem," Woods said. "It is an ‘our’ problem. If it is an ‘our’ problem, then it is our solution."