Understanding family violence in Alexandria

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To the editor:

It happens too often and usually behind closed doors, but the toll that its taking on society is no secret. Family violence costs us all in so many ways: Human suffering, rising costs for mental health and medical care, strained resources for law enforcement, diminished workplace productivity and homeless shelters at capacity. The costs of family violence are real, far-reaching and all of us in Virginia pay.

How well are we doing as a commonwealth in protecting what many of us take for granted living safely in our own homes?  Until now, we could only guess at the answer. But a groundbreaking report from the Family and Childrens Trust Fund brings together data that highlights conditions for Virginians of all ages, from infants to the elderly, who have experienced violence within their families. 

Violence At Home: The FACT Report (www.fact.state.va.us) is unique because it looks at family violence holistically, across different types of violence against victims of all ages. Those findings are all now located in one report, which measures 18 social indicators in eight geographic regions.

Readers will be familiar with some of the indicators, i.e. the percentage of people living below the poverty line. Other indicators are less widely known, but can reveal surprising, and troubling, facts about our community. For instance, Alexandria is among the localities with the highest number of juvenile arrests for non-sexual violent offenses including kidnapping and abduction, robbery, assault and intimidation perpetrated against a family member.

Why would this be true for Alexandria? And, herein lies the reports real power: Its publication provides an unprecedented opportunity for us as residents, community activists, policy makers, and public and private organizations to determine the answer to that question, and others. Lives depend upon it. 

The FACT Report includes hypotheses to questions such as: What leads to some communities having higher rates of family violence and others having lower rates? Why are arrest rates for family violence different among the regions? What might be reasons for apparent increases in child and elder abuse in some regions compared to others?  

As service providers and concerned citizens, now we have a tool that helps identify whether our current services and practices are matching community needs. And, if theyre not, we can refer to a uniform set of data points to collaborate on concrete strategies that help residents of every age and background meet a fundamental expectation to be safe in their own homes. 

Theres no question that some of the statistical information is tough to read. The goal of The FACT Report isnt to make Virginians feel as if there is nothing they can do. Its just the opposite, because so much is already being done.

For instance, in Alexandria, the nonprofit Community Lodgings provides adults and children enrolled in Family Learning Center classes a minimum of 40 hours of bilingual educational programs addressing family violence. This shows how to prevent and stop domestic and family violence and includes resources available to victims and perpetrators.

Through its Capitol Youth Empowerment Program, Alexandrias Fatherhood in Touch provides fatherhood enrichment services to address abuse and neglect, family violence and child support cases in family court.

Our community and the Commonwealth have so many dedicated organizations and individuals that will benefit from a definitive report on family violence across the lifespan continuum. Virginians of every age are affected by this. Some understand the terrible costs of family violence. Now its time for the rest of us to as well.

Paul Krizek
Vice chair, Family and Childrens Trust Fund of Virginia Board of Trustees, Richmond

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