This October marks the 35th year that our nation has observed Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Each year, this month serves as a way to connect and unite individuals and organizations working to combat and raise awareness about domestic violence, to support domestic violence survivors, to hold abusers accountable, and to create and strengthen legislation to further these goals.
Domestic violence is characterized as 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. These behaviors are not limited to physical violence, but can also include stalking, sexual assault, financial control, verbal abuse, isolation from family and friends, and threats to harm loved ones and pets, among other tactics.
Domestic violence is all too terribly common. It is pervasive across all walks of life, varying age groups, all backgrounds, all communities, all education levels, all economic levels, all cultures, all ethnicities, all religions, all abilities, and all lifestyles. 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men in the United States have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. Each year, more than 10 million adults experience domestic violence, and 1 in 15 children are witnesses to intimate partner violence. Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime in the United States. 72% of all murder-suicides in the United States involve an intimate partner, and 94% of the victims of these murder-suicides are female. An abuser’s access to a firearm in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%. Indeed, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence notes that 498 gun-related domestic violence deaths have occurred so far this year.
Over the past several years, the Virginia General Assembly has taken several steps to combat this issue. In 2020, we passed a law prohibiting respondents to final domestic violence protective orders from possessing, purchasing, or transporting firearms, and a bill to require background checks for firearm purchases. Also in 2020, my bill HB 1044 passed, increasing the penalty for the unauthorized use of tracking devices, frequently used by abusers to stalk victims. I also plan to reintroduce a bill that would require anti-harassment training in the workplace, an effort to curb sexual harassment, discrimination, and other abusive behaviors that can become pervasive in a workplace environment if allowed to continue.
Domestic violence doesn’t end when October does. Everyone should do their part to learn and recognize the signs and symptoms of domestic violence and learn how to be an engaged bystander on this issue that, unfortunately, affects so many of our neighbors. The Virginia Department of Social Services, and organizations like the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence provide fact sheets and resources on their websites to educate everyone on these abusive behaviors, how to seek help in an abusive relationship, and how to support victims and survivors in our lives.
Sexual and domestic violence programs provide crisis services, emergency shelter, and resource-based support. The Virginia Statewide Hotline is ready to help (24 hours a day, 365 days a year), and sexual and domestic violence programs all over the state. If you or someone you know needs help, please call: 1-800-838-8238, text: 804-793-9999, or chat: https://www.vadata.org//chat/.To report a crime, call the Fairfax County Police Department at 703-691-2131 or, for emergencies, please call 911. To support charitable efforts to combat domestic violence please consider donating to the Family and Children’s Trust Fund http://www.fact.virginia.gov/donate-2/, the only organization in Virginia devoted to treating and preventing family violence across the lifespan.