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    Domestic violence hits home

    It shouldn't take a videotape to get a community – or a nation – outraged about domestic violence, said Nicole Acosta, executive director of the Loudoun Abused Woman's Shelter.

    Acosta is referring to the recent incident involving Ray Rice, the now-former Baltimore Ravens running back who was caught on video punching his then-fiancee in an elevator in Atlantic City.

    Rice's initial punishment – a two-game suspension – points to a bigger problem: Most are not willing to take abused women at their word, Acosta said.
    Initially a video released showed Rice dragging his fiancee out of the elevator. It was only after a second video was released showing the actual abuse that the Ravens decided to drop Rice from their roster.

    “For me that was the most difficult to understand, more than the reaction to the video. It seems like the penalty was much harsher when the video was released,” Acosta said.
    “Most victims don't have their incidents recorded by video. Just because we as the public had the opportunity to see it happen, doesn't mean this isn't a problem. Domestic violence often doesn't have any witnesses other than the perpetrator and the victim … It basically says that the victim's words alone aren't enough.”

    Loudoun may be the most affluent county in the nation, but that doesn't serve as a shield for domestic violence.

    Last year the Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter, also known as Loudoun Citizens for Social Justice, a private nonprofit, helped 1,076 victims through direct intervention and 2,293 through prevention and awareness. It also fielded 714 hotline calls. Of the 1,076 victims, 168 were adults victims of sexual assault. Two-hundred and eighteen children accounted for part of the total number of victims.

    “I'm always amazed when I go to a community group in Loudoun and speak to them … I would say in Loudoun that people often don't know how severe the issues really are … There's a misconception about domestic violence in general that it only happens to a certain type of person. But it happens to every person of every race, every social and economic background,” Acosta said.

    Still, Acosta believes the numbers are likely higher and a lot of domestic violence goes unreported for fear of retribution.

    “Each victim is sort of the expert on their own situation. Some will report it so he knows he can't do it again and others are terrified that if they do report it he'll get arrested and then get out and come after her,” she said. “It's difficult to pick a one-size- fits-all solution to the problem.”

    In Loudoun, the public is somewhat shielded from the number of men or woman arrested for domestic violence. These incidents are rarely reported to the media through law enforcement.

    "Because it's a domestic violence issue, it may be because we don't want to embarrass the families within their own communities," Loudoun County Mike Chapman said.
    The charges, when released to the public, are usually listed as assault and battery of a family member.

    Only when domestic violence leads to murder is the incident reported to the public. There were three domestic violence-related murders this year and two last year.

    Acosta believes domestic violence is an issue Loudoun law enforcement take seriously, although the public may not know what's going on in their own neighborhoods.

    “I think from our county administration and our community partners … we work together closely around domestic violence issues with our domestic violence abuse team,” she said. “I've seen first hand that our county works hard to combat it and make sure it's not swept under the rug.”

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