October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Each October we observe Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Also known as DVAM, the observance evolved from 1981’s “Day of Unity” organized by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and sought to combat violence against women and children. This singular Day of Unity spawned into week-long activities across the nation at state and local levels. The first Domestic Violence Awareness Month was observed in October 1987, which also coincided with the roll out of the nation’s first domestic violence toll-free hotline. Since then, nonprofit, government, and private organizations have come together in October to connect and unite against domestic violence while also raising issues of awareness.

Domestic violence is a family, community, and public health issue with widespread ripple effects that impact all parts of our community. According to the Fairfax County Department of Family Services, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men will experience physical violence, sexual violence, or stalking by an intimate partner during their lives. In addition, research indicates that survivors of domestic violence experience higher rates of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and can even suffer from more physical health problems including diabetes, chronic pain, and asthma.

The COVID-19 health crisis deeply and uniquely impacted domestic violence across our community. A rise in stressors for families, including job and housing insecurity exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19, increased instances of domestic violence. Reporting in a February article from Time notes that intimate partner violence has not just increased during the pandemic, it has also become more severe. Within our cases during this time period, we have witnessed this firsthand. Before the pandemic in FY19, 31% of new cases referred by the Court involved children exposed to domestic violence. In FY20, that statistic jumped to 50%.

Exposure to domestic violence can significantly impact a child’s developmental growth–emotionally, mentally and socially. It increases the likelihood that children will experience depression, anxiety, self-esteem issues, and can even decrease a child’s empathy for others. When a caring adult steps up and addresses a child’s immediate safety and ongoing needs, they increase the odds of better outcomes for these children. Through their consistency and dedication, CASAs weigh down the resilience side of the scale, while lessening the trauma side. When a case involving domestic violence is assigned to our office, our priority is ensuring that the children are in a safe placement where they can begin to experience stability and healing. Our CASAs advocate for trauma-informed therapies when needed, support biological parents as they work on stabilizing, collaborate with the child welfare team to ensure the best possible outcome for the child, and most importantly, serve as a caring, reliable adult who listens to that child. CASAs positively impact the lives of children exposed to domestic violence and you can read about one such story this coming Friday, on October 22nd.

Domestic violence is a reality that we must acknowledge and discuss, if we are to effectively combat its occurrence and best support survivors. In Fairfax County, there are multiple resources serving victims and seeking justice. The Department of Family Services Domestic and Sexual Violence Services is a great place to start. This October, let us all come together in unity to stand up to domestic violence and stand up for domestic violence survivors.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, help is waiting. Please call Fairfax County’s Domestic Violence Hotline at 703-360-7273