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    Editorial | Wednesday, Sep. 17 3 comments
    EDITORIAL: It’s what we don’t know that can hurt us
    The National Football League is learning a hard lesson about dealing with domestic and family violence: don’t sweep a serious problem under the table.

    The lesson resonates throughout our society. One in four women will experience domestic violence during her lifetime, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. It affects people in every community, regardless of age, economic status, race nationality or educational background.

    Domestic violence is a family-breaker. Every year more than 3 million children witness violence in their homes by parents.

    For all the righteous indignation coming from the media and sports world landscapes over Ray Rice’s criminal act, similar crimes occur every day in Loudoun County and Northern Virginia. Calling domestic violence a problem in our community is an understatement. It is an epidemic.

    Sadly, it is an epidemic that too many of us ignore.

    Here is what we know. The Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter, also known as Loudoun Citizens for Social Justice, last year aided 1,076 victims with direct intervention and 2,293 through prevention and awareness. The shelter last year served 39 women and 27 children and fielded 714 hotline calls. Of the 1,076 victims, 168 were adult victims of sexual assault; 218 were children -- victims of sexual assault and/or domestic violence.

    Here is what else we know: three womene have been killed in Loudoun County this year in acts of domestic violence. Last year, two men were killed.

    And while these numbers are disturbing, statistics show that four in 10 incidents of domestic violence are never reported to police. While far too many cases of domestic violence go unreported, some cases are simply too tragic to avoid the public’s notice.

    What we don’t know is how prevalent domestic violence is throughout the county. The Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office shields those accused of domestic violence as well as the victims of it from the public eye.

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

    The policy, which was ostensibly set up to protect victims, isn’t playing out as intended. Accordingly, many law enforcement agencies have changed their policy and routinely report incidents of domestic violence, including the names of victims and the accused.

    It’s an important change. The community has a right to know if a neighbor, friend or resident has been arrested for domestic violence. To accept less is to hope for a video to expose a terrible secret.

    It wasn’t too many decades ago that domestic abuse was hidden. Police considered it a family matter and ignored evidence. Medical authorities accepted lame excuses from bruised women and looked the other way.

    Everyone has rights, some of which are in conflict. But given the epidemic of domestic violence, the right of safety must have priority. Knowing when domestic violence is committed, and by whom, is a vital way to understand the extent of the problem and to educate society about it. This is how progress works.

    Domestic violence is a crime, and it is being recognized as such. We still are concerned about living in a culture where victims of racism, sexism and domestic violence are questioned about their role as victims.

    More must be done than just reporting acts domestic violence. LAWS, a private nonprofit, does the work of angels, but its resources are limited. There are few safe havens for women who fear domestic abuse or are victims of it.

    One place to start: the Virginia General Assembly. Virginia needs tougher laws to prevent domestic abusers from easily getting their hands on guns. In February, the General Assembly rejected legislation that would have prevented anyone convicted of stalking, sexual battery or physical assault of a family member from having a gun for a period of five years.

    Here’s what Philip Van cleave, the president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, which opposed the domestic violence legislation, said: Women who are at risk of domestic violence should “either get away from him or buy her own gun.”

    Virginia does not need extremists telling women what to do. It needs legislators to enact stronger laws. No one should feel like a victim in their own home.

    Recognition is evolving. Maybe the next time a woman is battered, authorities won’t need a videotape to convince them to act.
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