By Buta Biberaj
Today is the first day of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Domestic and sexual violence affect our families, homes, communities, schools, and workplaces daily. Domestic and sexual violence impact all socio-economic levels, cultures, and religions. Whether the impact is open and obvious, such as a tragic homicide, or hidden and suppressed, such as the emotional and psychological effect on children who silently live with the violence, domestic and sexual violence can penetrate even the deepest levels of our society.
As a community we must be partners in the prevention of and protection against domestic violence. The data is evident that the court system cannot do it alone. On January 30, 2019, the Office of the Attorney General for Virginia released its Report on Domestic and Sexual Violence in Virginia for 2018. Domestic and Sexual Violence in Virginia – 2018 Annual Report. Due to the complexities in domestic relations, the persons involved have a difficult time engaging in or completing the prosecution process. This fact, as evidenced in the OAG 2018 report, confirmed that prosecutions resulting in convictions for domestic violence in Virginia have consistently been under 20% since 2013 (when reporting become more formal). 2018 was the most recent year reported andshowed 21,945 cases were filed and 3,835 resulted in convictions (approx. 17%). Challenges related to the prosecutions included victim assistance/cooperation, and lack of evidence. Further, there is a fear of the court system. Recently, we had a victim witness convicted of contempt and sentenced to jail while she was testifying against her abuser. We fought for her and will continue to stand with our victims so that they are heard, are seen and are protected.
Recently we lost a loved member of our community when Regina Redman- Lollobrigido died after succumbing to the injuries inflicted upon her last week. Although I never had the privilege to meet her, my heart aches nonetheless. My prayers are with Ms. Redman-Lollobrigido’s family and friends.
This horrific event is a reminder that domestic violence continues to be the most prevalent threat to the safety, stability, and health of our community. As this tragic event is still under investigation and a prosecution is pending against Peter Lollobrigido, the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney is ethically limited in the comments it may make related specifically to this case.
Although Loudoun County is one of the safest counties in the country, it is not immune from domestic violence. Fatalities resulting from domestic violence are not an anomaly, unfortunately, as we have experienced many losses over the years (note, names are not included to limit re-traumatization):
- 2018 a brother killed his sister by running her over with his car after an argument
- 2017 a husband killed his wife by fatally stabbing her in the neck
- 2017 a man killed his father with his hands during an argument
- 2017 a man shot and killed his father
- 2016 a man fatally stabbed his half-brother
- 2016 a man fatally shot his ex-girlfriend and mother of his child
- 2014 a man fatally stabbed his estranged his estranged wife
- 2014 a man fatally strangled his ex-wife
- 2014 a man fatally shot his wife after learning she wished to separate from him
- 2013 a woman fatally stabbed her husband
- 2010 a man killed his wife using a hammer
- 2009 a man fatally strangled his live-in girl friend
- 2005 a man fatally shot his wife
- 2004 a man strangled and dis-membered his wife after learning she intended to separate from him
Every incident is one too many. Each day acts of domestic violence are committed, the fiber of our great community is frayed. In addition to the physical harm the victim suffers, there is mental and emotional trauma which, except in cases of death, extends beyond the physical injury.
Every person in Loudoun has the right to live free from fear of sexual and domestic violence. But it is not so easy to do. Studies show it takes 3 years on average for people in violent relationships to ask for help; a person may make as many as 7 efforts to leave a violent relationship before they are able to finally do so. Victims have a difficult time reporting or prosecuting their partners for domestic violence because of the impact it will have on their daily life – where will they live, what will happen to their children, how will they support themselves, etc. All real issues that extend beyond the court process.
Every victim must be encouraged to come forward with their reports of domestic and sexual violence. They must be supported throughout the process – including before, during and after court involvement. We must provide resources to aid them in extricating themselves from the cycle of victimization – provide permanent housing solutions, financial support, mental health counseling and family support. We must avoid re- victimizing these most vulnerable citizens.
The Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney has been diligent and vocal in its support of victims and will continue to dedicate itself in this capacity. We fight for our victims inside and outside the courtroom and will protect them from their abusers – be they their partners or the court. We will stand with them and allow them to be part of the solutions.
Since January 1, 2020, the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office has reallocated resources to increase the staff addressing domestic and sexual violence from a team of 6 to its current team level of 14 – attorneys and victim witness case managers. We have increased the internal training and are developing a community education plan and a task force which will include stakeholders – public and private partners – with a focus on prevention and detection of domestic violence.
Since COVID-19, the nation has experienced an increase in domestic violence cases. The concern is we may never know the full impact of COVID-19 on families as many incidents go unreported because victims do not have exit options. This is clearly a community crisis. We need a community response. Domestic violence leaves a lasting impact on survivors, their families, and our communities, but by intervening early and connecting survivors and vulnerable people with the resources they need, we hope to break the cycle of violence and prevent re-victimization. We need a strong network of resources and caring individuals who can help. We need you – the members of our community to be engaged and be a safety option. Please say something if you see something – it may be a bruise, a change in behavior, or a scream from next door.
In cases of domestic violence:
- Call or text 9-1-1 if anyone is in immediate danger.
- Call Loudoun County’s Domestic and Sexual Violence hotline 24/7: 703-777-6552.
- Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224. If you’re unable to speak safely, you can log onto thehotline.org or text LOVEIS to 22522.
- Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline (RAINN) at 800.656.HOPE (4673). Survivors can call RAINN or chat on the website. It’s free and confidential.
Let us work together to keep our community safe. Please provide your thoughts and comments on how we can build a better safety team to address domestic violence to StopDomesticViolence@Loudoun.gov.