Perhaps you, your spouse or someone you know is concerned about the possibility of abusive behavior. Victims of domestic abuse often have great difficulty coming to terms with their abusive relationship. They may feel ashamed or somehow responsible for the violence. They may be financially dependent and have no means of support for themselves or their children. Or they may fear the loss of their own or their spouse’s military career if the abuse is revealed. Victims who live far from home may feel isolated and alone, believing they have no one to turn to for help. The following information will help you understand what to do and where to get support if you are a victim of domestic abuse.
If you are experiencing domestic abuse
You can best help yourself and your children by planning ahead for a potential crisis and finding resources that offer support. Programs to help victims of domestic abuse are available through the military’s Family Advocacy Program and through civilian support agencies. Take these steps to get the help you need and to keep yourself safe:
- Seek support. Talk with a friend, co-worker, relative, or neighbor. Contact your installation's chaplain or FAP, anonymously if you choose. Visit the Military INSTALLATIONS locator to find the chaplain or FAP office on your installation. You can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-SAFE ). Confidential counseling and referral to other resources is available through Military OneSource (800-342-9647).
- Find out about military reporting options. To help victims get the support and care they need while they decide what to do next, the military offers confidential reporting of domestic abuse. Victims can, except in certain circumstances, get assistance from a FAP victim advocate and receive medical care without it automatically resulting in an abuse investigation or notification to the service member's command.
- Document evidence of violence. If you go to a hospital or to see your doctor, explain what happened. Ask your doctor to document the incident or injuries in your file. Save any threatening email or voice-mail messages.
- Plan ahead in case you need to leave on short notice. Gather important documents in one place. If you don't have access to a credit card in your own name, save a secret fund of cash. If possible, keep a change of clothing for yourself and your children, other personal items and an extra set of car keys at a friend's home or at work.
- Gather information. Find out about potential legal issues, restraining orders, Military Protective Orders, counseling, shelters and resources in your community. A victim advocate, either through your installation’s FAP or in your local community, can give you information and help you take action. Visit the Legal Assistance Office on your installation for more information about legal issues. They can provide some limited services and refer you to legal resources in the civilian community.
- Have a safe place to go. If you feel you are going to be physically harmed, find a safe place to go, preferably somewhere your spouse does not know. Friends and relatives, while closest to you and perhaps the easiest to ask for assistance, may not be the safest people to stay with because your spouse will know where to find you. Choosing to stay with family and friends can be dangerous for you and those trying to assist you.
- Have a secret code. If you have children, come up with a secret code word or phrase to alert them that they need to leave the home and go to a special location, such as a neighbor’s home.
- Have alternate plans for school and child care. Abusing spouses may try to take children from school and child care in order to gain control of the situation. Any restraining order or MPO should include your children if there is reason to believe that they would be in danger as well. Be sure your children’s school or child care center is aware of your domestic situation and has a copy of the restraining order or MPO.
- Plan your escape. When your abuser is not around, practice getting out of the house quickly and without being noticed.
- Have a cell phone available to call for help. If you cannot afford one or your spouse won't allow you to have one, there are recycled cell phones available through domestic violence prevention programs that function only for 911 calls.
- Inform your employer. Let your supervisor know about your situation just in case your abuser shows up at your workplace.
How victim advocates can help
Your installation’s FAP office, your chaplain or your health care provider can help you find support if you are a victim of domestic abuse. If you choose to seek help outside military support services, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Victim advocates are available through the FAP on military installations as well as through local civilian agencies. Victim advocates offer many forms of assistance to help keep you safe:
- Emergency services and counseling. Victim advocates can help you find shelter, medical care, counseling, legal services and other resources both on and off the military installation.
- A safety plan. Safety plans help victims think through their situation and provide a strategy for finding emergency assistance, a shelter or safe house, legal assistance, financial assistance and child care. If you're not yet prepared to talk to someone, you can still develop a safety plan. Information is available on the National Domestic Violence Hotline website.
- MPO or restraining order. If you live on an installation, you may want to consider an MPO, which is similar to a restraining order issued by a civilian court. An MPO is issued by a military commander and may order the service member to surrender his or her weapons custody card, to stay away from the family home and/or to refrain from all forms of contact with the victim. Commanders may tailor their orders to meet the specific needs of the victim. MPOs are recognized on the installation, while a civilian restraining order is enforceable on the installation and also in the civilian community. Remember that neither a restraining order nor an MPO will prevent your spouse from returning home or entering your workplace, but it does make it illegal for him or her to do so.
- Explanation of confidentiality and military reporting options. Under the restricted reporting option, a victim of domestic abuse can report an incident to a FAP supervisor/clinician, a victim advocate or health care provider and receive victim advocacy services and medical care without starting a law enforcement investigation or having the command notified.
- Information about military or civilian response. Victim advocates can provide information on both military and civilian responses to domestic abuse, including information about support services, what the military command can do to protect the victim and what civilian law enforcement and courts can do to protect the victim.
- Transitional Compensation. Temporary monetary payments and benefits are available to family members of service members who are separated from the military due to a dependent-abuse offense. Transitional Compensation helps to alleviate the financial hardship military family members face when they decide to leave an abusive relationship. A FAP victim advocate can provide more information about eligibility and limitations.
Remember that you are the only one who can make the decision to leave an abusive relationship. While you may feel alone, many others have suffered from domestic abuse as well, and there are those who are willing to listen and help. You may be too frightened to take immediate action; however, with support you can find the courage to change your situation.