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Protecting Yourself Against Domestic Violence

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Abused woman crying holding her faceHome is supposed to be a haven, but sometimes it can be a dark place when physical violence occurs. Some people take out their stress and frustration on the ones they love the most. They may hit, shove, slap, kick, choke, throw or destroy objects, bite, force sex, or threaten violence. Though their methods may differ, what abusers have in common is a desire to control their partners. Abusers are still more likely to be male than female, but it is increasingly common for men to suffer at the hands of their female partners.

 Victims of domestic violence come from different races, cultures, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds. They often feel too terrified, traumatized, ashamed, confused, trapped, or overwhelmed to seek help, yet taking no action can have tragic results. In 70–80 percent of murders that involve domestic violence, the man has physically abused his partner, regardless of which one is killed. Even in situations that don’t involve fatalities, the fallout of abuse can affect multiple generations. Exposure to domestic violence harms children’s self-esteem and puts them at risk for developmental, psychological, behavioral, and school problems.

 Often domestic violence gets more frequent and severe over time. Experts believe that less than 20 percent of those physically abused seek protective orders. Some victims in military families are reluctant to report abuse, fearing it will affect their spouse’s career and cause them to lose their job, housing, and other benefits. Life stress, difficult economic times, high unemployment and underemployment, financial strains, and issues surrounding parenting affect all families. Beyond these, there are unique factors in the military that can cause friction and lead to violence. These include recurrent deployments with long absences that test relationships; violence on the battlefield and the pressure of combat; posttraumatic stress disorder; and isolation from family who may live far away.

In the past, military personnel and civilian police viewed domestic violence as a private matter, often ignoring charges. Not anymore. The military has beefed up resources: the Family Advocacy Program offering crisis prevention, intervention, and counseling; more victim advocates and clinic providers; and better education of commanding officers and coordination of services.

 It doesn’t matter if the abuse happens just once—it’s still abuse. If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

 Abuser Behavior

 Abusers do what they can to keep the relationship going, no matter how unhealthy it is. Their goal is to be in control.

 An abusive partner may threaten, intimidate, or shame the victim:

• “I’ll hurt (or kill) you (or the kids, other family members, or a pet).”

• “I’ll kill myself if you leave.”

• “ I’ll report you for child abuse.”

• “If you report me, we’ll lose our house (or income or other benefits).”

• “Go ahead and leave. No one else will want you.”

• May glare; poke; point; jab at the air; or roughly touch the victim.

 An abusive partner makes excuses:

• Minimizes the behavior: “It’s not a big deal” or “That’s just how I was raised.”

• Justifies by citing past or current circumstances: “I had a bad childhood” or “I’m tense

because of work” or “We’re broke and I’m under pressure.”

• Blames the victim: “You made me do it” or “You deserved it.”

• Denies responsibility: “I didn’t really mean it.”

 An abusive partner isolates and controls the victim:

• Chooses to live off base, making it more difficult for the victim to seek the support of others.

• Controls the victim’s social activities and perhaps even phone calls.

• Keeps the credit cards or has sole access to checking accounts and doles out the money.

• Decides what the victim can do.

 An abusive partner makes the victim feel guilty:

• Begs the victim to stay: “I can’t live without you” or “I love you so much.”

• “I’ve done so much for you” or “I’ve been having such a hard time.”

 An abusive partner apologizes and acts loving:

• “Things will be different, I promise. It won’t happen again.”

• “I don’t know what came over me.”

• May be affectionate and kind between incidents. May buy the victim clothes, jewelry, and other items to try to make amends.

 An abusive partner knows exactly what he or she is doing:

• Can usually control when the abuse happens and will not do it in front of others.

• Can stop if necessary (for example, if someone walks in or police arrive).

• Knows where on the body to target so the damage doesn’t show.

 Sexual Abuse

 Being forced to do something that makes you sexually uncomfortable is abuse. Sexual violence can turn into physical violence and vice versa. Fortunately, the military has resources, including programs and personnel, to address the issue.

 If you are sexually abused:

1. Leave the house without showering, bathing, or changing your clothes.

2. Call the police and/or go to a hospital emergency room.

3. Contact the installation’s Family Advocacy Program for crisis intervention, safety planning, medical and legal care, shelter referrals, etc.

 Female Abusers

 Many don’t believe it happens, yet women battering their partners is on the rise. Still, it’s not so commonplace that male victims talk about it freely, and men often don’t report the abuse. Part of the problem is that outdated stereotypes still abound: men are supposed to be stronger and able to prevent this kind of thing. After all, the thinking goes, a “real” man wouldn’t take it. Military officials know that male victims of abuse suffer as much as female victims of abuse and that it’s a growing demographic.

 Setting Up a Safety Plan

 You can create a safety plan that prepares you for a quick and safe exit should you be abused. Make sure you have the following documents in an accessible place:

  • Your driver’s license, marriage license, and insurance card
  • Leases, deeds, checkbook, bank account numbers, insurance policies, tax return, and pay stubs or W-2 forms
  • Birth certificate, passport, military ID card, medication and prescriptions, health records and cards for you and your children
  • Your green card or work permit, if applicable
  • Your civilian protective order or military protective order
  • A current photo of your partner to help guards or employers be on the lookout
  • Documents showing prior incidents of abuse (medical records, copy of police report, photo of an attack)
  • A list of important numbers (clergy, neighbors, doctors, your employer, school principals and teachers, daycare center or afterschool teachers, local domestic violence shelters, friends and relatives, and military police). Include the National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH), at 1-800-799-7233, and the military’s Family Advocacy Program (FAP). They can provide the names of nearby shelters and programs, among other services.

 In addition:

  • Come up with a secret or code word to let others know there is an emergency, and share it with friends, coworkers, neighbors, and family you trust to summon help if you need it.
  • Have as many accounts in your name as possible so you can access them.
  • Change your e-mail password often and erase the history of websites you visit on your home computer. Assume your partner will look at it.
  • Teach your children how to dial 911.
  • Plan in advance where you will go if you are in danger. Don’t pick a place where you feel trapped (for example, a bathroom, closet, or small space) or where there are potential weapons, like the kitchen. Look for rooms with doors or windows.
  • Know what phone you can use. Always keep your cell phone charged and have change available for a pay phone.