Arlington’s Project PEACE (Partnering to End Abuse in the Community for Everyone), a coordinated community response to domestic violence, will honor victims and survivors throughout October for Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This year, they plan to do it with a host of online educational workshops.
Candice Lopez, the manager at Project PEACE, said the point of these workshops is to “highlight lesser-known or hidden forms of domestic violence.”
Arlington residents have a general understanding of what domestic violence is. Arlington resident James Bower says an unhealthy relationship is “one where one person gives too much sentimentality to it and the other person kind of abuses that, whether emotionally or physically.”
Linley Beckbridge, the communications and outreach director at the domestic violence nonprofit and shelter Doorways for Women and Families, concurred with the public’s definition and added that isolation — with or without quarantining during COVID-19 — can hide those behaviors.
“The abusive partner will isolate the victim or survivor from their friends and family,” Beckbridge said. “Maybe moving further away from friends and living with the partner. It can also be more in terms of not physically moving, but telling the survivor or victim that they can’t see their friends or making them feel guilty for that.”
Beckbridge included that with this isolation, the victim exists in a vacuum where they only hear feedback from their abusive partner and none from people that care about them. She advised friends of victims to be patient and to stay in a victim’s life so that they have someone to turn to if they do escape.
“It’s extremely difficult and extremely dangerous to leave a situation,” she said, adding that it takes a victim seven tries on average to leave an abusive partner. “Unfortunately that can play into victims or survivors being isolated because their loved ones might be frustrated that they’re staying with that person and distance themselves.”
With the pandemic forcing people to quarantine in their homes, Beckbridge said Doorways anticipated an uptick in a request for help in a time of forced isolation, but did not see the uptick that they were expecting initially. Lopez agreed, and both said the stagnation in calls most likely came from victims being stuck at home with their abusive partners.
“We saw a decrease in calls initially, of people calling hotlines or people calling the police in the initial isolation phase,” Lopez said. “And then after things started opening up we saw an increase in calls. But across the region, people are seeing more severe calls.”
On average per 100,000 people in Arlington County, there were 18 incidents of rape per year as of 2015. For context, Arlington County had a population of 389,101 people in 2015 (Sarah Salem / The Wash).
According to Lopez, the county suffers from similar rates to the rest of the nation. One in five women suffer from domestic violence, and one in seven men similarly suffer.
In Arlington specifically, through the youth risk behavior survey conducted in high schools, 25% of high school girls in Arlington report that a dating partner used a form of emotional abuse with them, such as calling them names or putting them down. Of that 25%, one-fifth of those girls reported being sexually assaulted by the person they are dating.
Project PEACE has already hosted two workshops: on Oct. 8 they hosted one for reproductive coercion, which Lopez defines as a way to “control someone’s access to birth control, or control how they engage in sexual activity.” On Oct. 11 they hosted one for LGBTQ-specific domestic violence in honor of Coming Out Day that Sunday.
“We had a great turnout,” Lopez said. “We had 20 people show up for these events.”
While the organizations involved in Project PEACE have taken the pandemic as an opportunity to be creative with their initiatives, the pandemic has still created obstacles to build the outreach they would have otherwise had.
“COVID has definitely made some outreach things a little difficult,” Danielle Fincham, the volunteer and outreach coordinator at the Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter (LAWS), said. “Domestic Violence Awareness Month is such an important month and normally we’re able to go out into the community and give brochures, really talk to people one-on-one about these things and create awareness for what’s happening, but we’ve had to scale that back in a way.”
According to Fincham, even though calls for help have decreased, shelter stays have increased, specifically at LAWS. At one point this summer, LAWS had triple the number of shelter stays that they had at the time last year.
“In a non-covid world, many people are able to stop by and do walk-ins because they have that accessibility,” she said. “But even just in the sense of school, children are still at home. Some people are teleworking, some businesses aren’t open during their regular hours. So times when many people found an escape from whoever their abuser might be have been limited.”
Fincham explained that the lack of escape creates a greater chance of violence to escalate. “When people are forced into a room together that are already not in a healthy relationship, it’s only going to get worse.”
Arlington County has resources available for victims and survivors of domestic violence such as the nonprofit and shelter Doorways, as well as a number of hotlines. LAWS also has a Silent Witness Display where bystanders can stand in a victim’s shoes, regardless of age, height or gender, and understand what they go through in a day (Sarah Salem / The Wash).
The next workshop on Oct. 22 will focus on spiritual abuse and the role religion plays in abusive relationships. The workshop series will show that domestic abuse can come in many forms, but Fincham said the most important takeaway is that domestic violence can happen to anyone. Fincham said not even being in Loudon County — one of the richest counties in America — prevents well-off clients from experiencing domestic violence.
“It happens to literally everybody, no matter what your economic status, gender, or age, which is very unfortunate because that would make it a little more preventable,” she said. “That’s why it’s so important to make everyone aware.”