Last week’s column discussed domestic violence and the “Coordinated Community Response” that Fairfax County developed to address the damage it does to families and the community. Domestic violence is not restricted to women; men and children can be victims of abuse. Children who are abused or observe abuse in the family may become abusers themselves, continuing the cycle of violence into the next generation. That must stop.
A not-so-rare response to domestic violence is “why don’t you just leave?” That is a simple response to a very complex issue. Statistics indicate that it may take victims anywhere from three to six times before they are able to leave their abusers. They may be economically dependent on their abuser. In some families, the male head of the household controls the money, the documentation, and even the keys. The fear of social stigma is strong: “What if someone finds out?” “What if people start talking about us?” Fear for personal safety or safety of children and loved ones also sets up a barrier. Beliefs about marriage, family, and religion may create confusing messages for both the abused and their faith community. A reluctance to “air the family’s dirty laundry,” or a belief that the mother must hold the family together, or that divorce is unacceptable are cited as reasons not to leave.
In one case related by attorney Mehagen McRae’s speech to the League of Women Voters in January, a minister was surprised that a wife could say “no.” “The Bible says a wife must submit to her husband,” the minister said. “You mean she can say no?” Attorney McRae noted that, in this country, the Constitution protects a person’s right to say “no.” In another case, a priest advised a woman that the way to deal with her abusing husband was “to be a better wife.” Hopefully, the Coordinated Community Response to Domestic Violence and Abuse eventually will reach, and teach, all counselors that domestic violence and abuse is not about sex or love; it is about power and control. And it must stop.
If you, or someone you know, is the victim of domestic violence, get help now. If you are in immediate danger, call 911. The emergency hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, and can be reached at 703/360-7273. On-line information is available at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dsm/violence/faqs/htm.
Last week’s rush hour snowstorm still is eliciting stories about how long it took to get home. Several things became clear as a result of the chaos that evening: when bad weather is forecast, be sure to fill up the gas tank of your vehicle. Knowing you have a full tank to keep going, and run the car heater, relieves some of the stress of wintertime driving. Second, carry a snow shovel in the trunk. Digging out is much easier with the proper tools. Third, find some alternate routes home NOW. What is an easy little hill during dry weather becomes Mount Everest in ice and snow. One of my usual routes home is pretty hilly, and very chancy in the kind of weather we had last week. Even though it took a little longer, my alternate route has fewer hills, a wider roadway, and more traffic, which tends to create better road conditions. To report areas in need of plowing, or other road hazards, call the Virginia Department of Transportation, the state agency that operates and maintains roads in Fairfax County, at 703/383-VDOT.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be e-mailed at [email protected]