By Jasmin Witcher, Interim executive director, Bethany House of Northern Virginia
To the editor:
With all of the recent focus on Ray Rice’s family, the NFL and questions as to who viewed the video and knew what — and when — I believe we should stop pointing fingers and start focusing on the larger issue.
Domestic violence is a local and national problem that knows no boundaries. With one in four women experiencing domestic violence in their lifetime, it is imperative that victims receive the necessary safety, support and care.
A segment of the video was released earlier this year after the incident became public. At that time, my thoughts and concerns immediately turned to the victim. Is she protecting herself and her child? Does she have access to a safe place? Is she seeking help, like counseling?
These are questions I and my staff at Bethany House of Northern Virginia, Inc., ask ourselves every day.
Bethany House is a registered nonprofit, a crisis intervention service organization serving Northern Virginia and the Washington metropolitan area. It was founded in 1979 by Doris Ward to help women — and their children — who suffered from domestic violence.
We assist them in regaining their health and dignity and becoming re-established in their community. We do this by offering temporary, safe housing and support.
Our vision is to eliminate domestic violence one family at a time.
Janay Rice is a domestic violence victim, and the incident earlier this year may or may not have been the first time she was physically assaulted. We know that domestic violence most often occurs behind closed doors and away from public view.
When female victims of domestic abuse or intimate partner abuse call us, our focus is on helping them leave their abuser and get to a safe place. Through our initial intake process, we assist with safety planning, counseling and — if needed — refer victims to the emergency shelter at Bethany House or another agency if our beds are full. Once in our shelter program, we work closely with each woman to determine what other services, counseling and support are needed.
Our clients can stay in our emergency shelter for up to four months — and sometimes longer — before moving into permanent or transitional housing situations. We offer an after-care program where shelter graduates receive continued case management and support for up to two years.
It is up to us all to ensure that domestic violence victims receive the services and support they need to rebuild independent lives and transition into a future free from abuse. Bethany House helps women and their children do exactly that by providing housing, counseling, life skills training and intensive case management support.
In regards to the Ray Rice incident, so much attention has been paid to the abuser that the needs of the victim — in this case, his wife — have been overlooked. This can send a negative message to individuals experiencing domestic violence, telling them that they are somehow to blame. This can have the harmful effect of discouraging victims from coming forward and seeking help.
It is imperative that abuse victims are fully supported. Some women who suffer years of repeated abuse never talk about it with family or friends. Many never leave their abuser and do not receive help or counseling to deal with the emotional trauma caused by an abusive relationship. This is a pervasive problem in our society.
Help us end domestic violence. If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, call the Bethany House Helpline at 703-658-9500.