Make the Call
Domestic violence is a huge issue in Fairfax County — one call can make a difference.
It was about 1:30 a.m. on New Year’s Day 1961.
I pushed my younger brother and sister into my bedroom closet so they couldn’t see my father pointing the large kitchen knife at my mother. They had just returned from the local VFW hall and they were both drunk. As soon as they walked into the house, they started screaming at each other and soon there was pushing and shoving. We had witnessed these physical altercations before, but this time the tension was more palpable than usual. As I watched from the crack in my door, I knew my father had more violent thoughts on his mind.
He held up the knife and lunged but, fortunately, he missed his target and his head hit the radiator, knocking him out. I ran, grabbed the knife and threw it in the garbage. As I started to run out the front door my mother stopped me:
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to call the police.”
“No, don’t do it. Everything is fine, he just got a little drunk.”
I dutifully obeyed and we dragged my father to the couch, where he slept for the rest of the night. The next morning, I woke up to the surreal smell of pancakes. “Breakfast!” yelled my mom and we all sat down to eat, my father included. No one said a word about the night before. No one ever mentioned that my father had tried to kill my mother. I noticed the knife was back in the knife block.
I was thinking about that night as I sat at a meeting of Ventures in Community, a local coalition of religious institutions and non-profits. Our guests were staff people from the Domestic Violence Group of Fairfax County and they discussed the resources (or lack thereof) available to help women (and men) in need.
The facts started me: one in three women in Virginia have been assaulted, raped, sexually assaulted and/or stalked by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime. Think about that for a second. That means that approximately 176,538 women in Fairfax County will be victimized in their lifetime. And one in five Virginia MEN will have the same happen to them in their lifetime.
Of course, county law enforcement officials encourage victims of domestic violence to report incidents to the police. But that is easier said than done. There is always the fear of retribution, stalking, etc. Indeed, years later, my mother told me she never called the police because she was concerned that they would do nothing, that it would be just her word versus my father’s, and that it would “just make him angry again.” She remained silent, but the fighting continued for three more years until he (fortunately) abandoned our family. The problem was that my mother then began to abuse me. I often wondered if that was her way of “getting back” at my father.
My mother also argued that she would have had no place to go if she reported my father and had to leave our house. Indeed, according to the latest report, there are only 34 emergency shelter beds in Fairfax County, one for every 31,000 people — the worst ratio in the state of Virginia. Unless you have friends (and even that is no guarantee that you will be safe), there is virtually no place to go.
I often wonder how things might have turned out if my mother had just called the police. And I am certainly no expert in this area.
But, if you are reading this and you are having a problem with your partner, it doesn’t hurt to at least have an initial conversation. Pick up the phone and call the county’s Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline at 703-360-7273.