It is important for everyone to know the signs of domestic abuse, said Thomas Hill, Family Advocacy Program (FAP) manager at Army Community Service.
Often times, most victims don’t know they’re in a domestic violence situation until they learn the signs from someone who is educated about the issue, according to Donna Johnson, FAP victim advocate (VA).
“So it’s important for neighbors, if they see something that’s happening, to at least reach out and call someone,” Johnson said. “What they do is that they put that information in the hands of people who recognize the signs.”
Most victims and bystanders do not report domestic disputes because they are afraid of the repercussions of voicing something they saw.
“There are financial reasons; people are afraid to get their service member in trouble … they don’t want to see him (or her) in any kind of trouble — they just want him (or her) to stop beating them; abusing them,” Johnson said.
Hill added, usually the perpetrator in an abusive relationship do not see themselves as the abuser because it never escalated to the point where it was physical. Additionally, many victims do not come forth because they do not want to be labeled a victim.
Signs of domestic violence, other than visual signs of physical abuse, are usually tied in to private topics most people shy away from in day to day conversations, such as financial and emotional difficulties. Johnson said it is important to clue in to these subtle hints when these issues are brought up.
“They may say, ‘I don’t have money to get food,’ or things like that,” Johnson said. “Emotional and financial abuse like that is not as put out there.”
Steps to help
As an outsider, victim or a friend, there are many routes one can choose to stop the cycle of abuse. These steps depend on the risk and severity or the situation and how much involvement the reporter want authorities to have during intervention.
“We are going to reach out to any report that we get, and the spouse may not like it,” Johnson said.
When an incident is brought up to a VA, victims or the reporter can choose a restrictive or nonrestrictive report. A nonrestrictive report is where authorities are brought in.
“It is case by case, for example if we have a spouse who is pregnant, and she is in the house, and the neighbors and everybody can hear her husband berating her, knocking things around, or he may not even be hitting her; that would be something we wouldn’t really restrict just for obvious reasons — pregnancy is high risk,” Johnson said.
A restrictive report would entail low-intervention help such as referring the victim to a counsellor until he or she is able to make a decision on additional steps or if he or she wants to stay in that relationship, Johnson said.
Military Family Life Counselling and the Watters Family Life Center are places where victims can explore their options with very little intervention as they do not keep records. However, as soon as a counsellor in any of those organizations know there is abuse going on they will be required to make bring it to a VA or take necessary steps.
“If the victim goes to the police or (up the chain of) command or something like that, those folks would be obligated to not give the (abuser or victim) a restrictive reporting,” Hill said. “One thing we put out is the best way to be restricted (in reporting) other than not giving your name is to call an advocate.”
Knowledge is power, Johnson said. Therefore it is important for anyone wanting to report or know what their options are is to call a VA first before they call anybody else. Another way of being of help is to be a friend to the victim and bring the victim in to speak with a VA.
“We’ve got a lot of cases like that where the victim is not sure if she’s in a domestic violence relationship or she doesn’t know there are agencies out there that are able to help her,” Johnson said. “We’re 24 hours and they can always call us on the phone or walk in and someone is always available to see them in this building.”
Often times, victims need a third non-bias input on the situation, Johnson said. On one hand the victim is being told by his or her abuser that everybody is bad, and then a friend who’s telling them otherwise.
“Even a victim is going to end up trusting someone,” she said.
Legal aid is free to those who need a restraining order filed against their abuser. Partner abuse protective order filing, also known as the civil domestic violence protective order (50b), can be filed without going to the courthouse at 8 a.m. to noon, every Monday to Friday on the third floor of the Soldier Support Center. Last walk-in time is 11 a.m.
There also shelters in the areafor victims and their family to seek refuge, Johnson said. Most shelters have funds available to send victims to a safe place. This paid trip is usually a one-time and one-way occurrence and not just a family visit.
“Sometimes we can do things where we work with (the service member’s) command to get that client moved to a safe place,” Johnson said. “But this only happens when it has to be a safety issue involved.”