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Helping Victims of Domestic Abuse


Whether or not you recognize the signs, it's likely that someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse. The person may be someone you serve with, someone from your community, a family member or friend.

Victims frequently hide their abuse out of fear that revealing it will escalate the violence. In military families, victims and abusers may avoid reporting abuse when they're concerned about the consequences it might have on the service member's career. But abuse usually doesn't stop without outside intervention. Instead, it tends to become more frequent and more severe over time. The best outcomes for a victim's safety and a service member's career come when abuse is identified early and abusers have the opportunity to change before their violent behavior becomes a long-term pattern.

Understanding domestic abuse

Domestic abuse usually involves a pattern of violence and emotional and verbal abuse. Besides physical abuse, abusers may hurt their victims and maintain control over them using insults, put-downs, public humiliation and name calling. Or they may threaten violence, suicide, financial deprivation or to take away the children. These tactics are meant to silence victims so that they're afraid to seek help. Underlying all domestic abuse is the abuser's need to feel powerful and in control of another person's behavior and actions.

Although the Department of Defense has made it clear that domestic abuse within military families is not acceptable and will not be tolerated, abuse continues to damage military families. While being in the military does not cause abuse, the demands of military life may increase the risk of domestic abuse within some families. These demands include:

  • High levels of stress created by the cycle of deployment and reintegration
  • Frequent relocation that separates military families from social support systems
  • Economic dependence of many military spouses

Victims of domestic abuse often have great difficulty getting out of abusive relationships. They may feel ashamed or responsible for the violence, as if it were provoked or deserved. Or they may feel isolated and alone, believing there's no one to turn to for help. They may fear for their life or their children's safety or be financially dependent and have no means of support for themselves and their families.

The signs of domestic abuse

No one should try to diagnose situations of domestic abuse. But being aware of the signs is the first step in getting help or offering support to someone who may be at risk. Some of the signs of domestic abuse include the following:

  • Fear of one's spouse or of ending the relationship
  • Physical abuse, including grabbing, pinching, shoving or hitting
  • Emotional abuse (put-downs, embarrassment, or humiliation in private or in front of others)
  • Social isolation (not being allowed to see or talk to relatives or friends)
  • Threats of violence against the victim, the victim's children or people the victim loves
  • Unexplained bruises or injuries
  • Increased or unexplained absences from work
  • Harassing phone calls at work or at home
  • Withdrawal from friends, family or fellow service members

If you think someone you know is subject to domestic abuse

If you have a friend, relative, neighbor or co-worker who may be a victim of domestic abuse, reach out and offer support. Many people are uncomfortable raising an issue they believe is none of their business, or they fear that revealing suspicions will increase the risk of abuse or adversely affect a service member's career. But domestic abuse can be a matter of life and death. Here are ways that you can offer support:

  • Show your concern. Let the victim know you are ready to listen and help. You might begin by saying, "I'm concerned for your safety. I'm here to help." Encourage the victim to seek medical attention for any injuries.
  • Offer information on support resources. You can urge the victim to contact the installation's Family Advocacy Program and speak with a victim advocate (visit Military INSTALLATIONS for a locator), call the command chaplain, or contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-SAFE [7233]). Military OneSource (800-342-9647) can offer information and confidential counseling. You might say, "I'm afraid for your safety. Here's a number to call."
  • Make sure the victim understands the military's options for reporting domestic abuse. Victims can, except in certain circumstances, get assistance from an FAP victim advocate and receive medical care without it automatically resulting in an abuse investigation or notification to the service member's command.
  • Call 911 if the victim is in immediate danger of assault or physical injury. If on a military installation, call your military law enforcement office.
  • Remind the victim of the impact of domestic abuse on children. Whether or not they physically experience violence, children who live in violent households suffer emotional and psychological damage. In a growing number of states, domestic abuse is considered child abuse and needs to be reported to authorities.
  • Remind the person that abusers rarely stop without help, regardless of promises. An incident of domestic abuse is often followed by a "honeymoon" period. When tensions mount, the violent behavior returns.
  • Be there for the person. A victim of domestic abuse may need you to make phone calls, go with her to the police or help with child care as she works out a safety plan. Although you can't do it all, ask and do what you can to help.
  • Respect the victim's decisions. You may wonder why the victim stays in an abusive relationship. There may be many reasons - none of which are simple. It can be because of religious beliefs, worries about breaking up the family unit, family and social pressure, financial dependency, or fear that the abuse will increase if they attempt to leave.
  • Help the victim who chooses to stay. The choice to stay or leave remains with the victim, but addressing the problem can be a shared effort. Be sure the victim knows that your support remains available regardless of how she handles the situation. Often, a victim returns to the abuser several times before leaving for good. Your continued help, support and encouragement are vital.

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