Learning to stay SAFE from abuse

Every five days, a Virginian is killed by an intimate partner.

The incidence for domestic violence in Rappahannock County is equally staggering: 100 or more of its approximate 7,500 citizens most likely face abuse by a loved one each year, equating to roughly 1.33 percent of its population.

Seven out of 10 abuse victims are women nationally, and of the 24,072 arrests in 2010 for abuse in Virginia, only 21.7 percent resulted in convictions.

These blood-red silhouettes, as well as bright purple memorial ribbons, adorn a sycamore outside the county library, standing as a memorial for all those affected by domestic violence. Photo by Megan S. Smith.
These blood-red silhouettes, as well as bright purple memorial ribbons, adorn a sycamore outside the county library, standing as a memorial for all those affected by domestic violence. Photo by Megan S. Smith.

In a September 2012 report compiled by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, Rappahannock County averaged 24 arrests related to domestic violence between 2006 and 2010.

Culpeper-based Services to Abused Families (SAFE) reports that this equates to an average of 3.8 arrests each year per 1,000 people in Rappahannock, a median when compared to other counties in SAFE’s service area: Culpeper averages 5.2 arrests; 4.7 in Madison; and 2.2 in both Fauquier and Orange. Virginia’s overall 2010 state average was 4.1 arrests.

But Rapphannock’s 2010 victimization rate was higher at 8.8 per 1,000 population, and there were 41 arrests made for the 65 abuse cases reported.

Maj. John D. Arstino, Jr., who joined the Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Office as chief deputy in February 2012, said the RCSO has automated statistical entries in their computer system to accommodate efficiency. Pulling up data easily from this new system, he said of the 53 domestic-related 2012 emergency calls, 11 arrests were made.

Sadly, the actual abuse occurrence rate is even greater but unobtainable because victims are too afraid to come forward for fear of retribution.

According to SAFE, the percentage of women who do not report domestic violence to law officials is about 75 percent nationally. Alarmingly, one in four women will be abused by a loved one during their lifetime. Children between the ages of 16 to 24 are the highest level of any age group affected — many tragically witnessing domestic-related murders, which comprises a fifth of all homicides.

Overall domestic violence is on the rise and so is male victim incidence. Trinity Episcopal Church Rev. Jennings “Jenks” Hobson saw a similar trend in Rappahannock in that more abused men than women sought his counsel in a recent past year.

“Not everyone comes forward,” said SAFE community outreach coordinator Dianna Banks, though she added that “everyone tends to know somebody” who has been abused, whether they realize it or not.

To raise awareness during the domestic violence awareness month of October, SAFE — a United Way agency and non-profit organization established in 1980 — is presenting a free seminar from noon to 1 p.m. today (Thursday, Oct. 10) at the library. Rappahannock’s SAFE advocate Gina Mullins is presenting the talk, titled “Learn how to recognize the signs and symptoms of abuse and the effects on survivors.”

A table full of SAFE information awaits library visitors, as well as the stirring blood-red silhouettes — representing a woman, child or man who was killed by an abusive partner or parent — next to a sycamore donned with purple memorial ribbons.

“The Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Office and Commonwealth’s Attorney each have signed cooperative agreements with SAFE designed to ensure victims of domestic and sexual violence receive the services and support they need when reporting cases of abuse and/or assault,” said SAFE executive director George F. Stockes III.

“While each organization’s role in responding to domestic and sexual violence [is] unique,” Stockes continued, the three entities “work together to support the victims of violence to the degree circumstances will allow. While the sheriff’s office and commonwealth’s attorney’s office may recommend victims contact SAFE, there is no guarantee they will. The decision to utilize SAFE services is an individual and voluntary choice. When SAFE is contacted, all services are free and confidential.”

Victim Information and Notification Everyday (VINE) also works with the sheriff’s department, said Arstino. There are “pamphlets and cards that deputies hand out to victims” following incidents and “VINE will automatically contact the victim.”

(This writer, however, has personal knowledge of a recent case in which the victim was not informed of either organizations’ existence or services by a deputy or the commonwealth’s attorney’s office.)

“Victims of domestic violence often suffer in silence,” cautioned Stockes. “As a community we must all take an active role in helping to end the silence and suffering. Bringing awareness to the issue is the first step.”

If you would like to know more about how you can support SAFE by volunteering or donating, please call 540-825-8891 or visit safejourneys.org. The SAFE crisis hotline, with 24/7 help, is 800-825-8876.