It is one of the most frequently committed but least reported crimes: Several instances of domestic violence occur every day in Prince William County, but few result in arrests because many victims think one hit is no big deal.
Next month, which is designated for domestic violence awareness, several county agencies will work together to educate the public about state laws and the county's numerous social services agencies, as well as to debunk misconceptions about what constitutes domestic violence.
The Greater Prince William Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Prevention Council, a group comprising several agencies and police departments from the county, Manassas and Manassas Park, will sponsor a series of events in October: a breakfast for the county's law enforcement and social services professionals; a legal training seminar on child abuse cases; a candlelight vigil for the public; and a workshop on defusing tense workplace situations created by a partner's abusive relationship.
"One of the main issues is ignorance. People have a veneer of an understanding," said Peggy Sullivan, the community outreach coordinator for Turning Points, a domestic violence intervention program under the auspices of Action in Community through Service, a nonprofit agency. "We're raising awareness and letting people know about the services in the community."
In the past four years, a growing number of county agencies have been willing to participate in and conduct workshops, Sullivan said. As a result, the network of county agencies that deal with domestic violence has become more cohesive, she said, which has given them useful contacts so they can solve problems more efficiently.
Based on police department figures, domestic violence in the county seems to be declining. The number of reported cases has dropped, from 1,680 in 2001 to 1,451 in 2003. The majority of the cases involved misdemeanor assaults.
But Sullivan said the figures likely are higher than what the police report because people are often too embarrassed to alert authorities about their personal problems. Or, worse, she said, victims have an "illusion of knowledge" that domestic violence means only something life-threatening.
"I had a woman come into my office with a broken arm and a black eye, and she said she didn't know why she was referred to us, so I said, 'Tell me what happened,' " Sullivan recalled. "She said her partner had done it to her, that it wasn't domestic violence because it doesn't happen every day -- only once every six months or so."
Det. Joseph Lanzafama, who has been the county police department's domestic violence coordinator since November 2002, said his main task is ensuring that officers follow strict procedures in assessing situations and making arrests. Domestic violence incidents, he said, are among the few criminal violations in which an officer can make an arrest without a warrant and without observing the crime.
Lanzafama said he also tracks down suspects who flee because patrol officers who made the initial house call can be too busy on their shifts. Sometimes, Lanzafama contacts victims after an incident to refresh them on what counseling and legal options are available.
"It's pretty hectic when the officers get [to the scene and make an arrest]. Oftentimes, victims are not comprehending what they're told," he said.