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Health and Fitness

Preventing Domestic Violence

The fight stops here

For Petty Officer 3rd Class Jazmin Thomas, the abuse started with words; harsh words that began to eat at her from the inside out. "I'm the only one who could ever love you." "You are just something to look at." "Come over here house slave." "No one would ever want something like you."

Rather than just breaking her body, which she has been able to recover from, he also broke her mind, heart and spirit, which she admits she's still trying to put back together.

"I remember we were arguing and it got out of hand, he picked me up and shook me, then he threw me half way across the room into the wall," said Thomas. "I slid down and bounced off the edge of the bed. He came, rolled me on my back and put his knee on my arm. Having 100 pounds over me, it hurt! Then he choked me and whispered in my ear that I was his and only his, then he kissed me on the cheek and told me he loved me. I got up and it was like the only thing I heard was him saying he loved me. It was like I missed everything before that. I'm happier now without him but it hasn't been that long. I fear eventually, I'll give in again."

Sometimes she said she still looks back and can see all the warning signs.

"I stayed as long as I did because I was so brainwashed into believing that I could never be with anybody else."

Domestic abuse cuts across all religions, sexual orientations, age groups, and social classes (ranks). Victims can be sailors as well as spouses/intimate partners. Navy leaders may encounter sailors experiencing distress as a result of domestic abuse. Abuse is preventable and is often treatable if addressed promptly. Through prevention, Navy leaders can promote family resilience and sailor mission readiness. Therefore, knowing how to prevent abuse and respond to reports of abuse is crucial to mission readiness.

"The command plays a significant role in the prevention of abuse by establishing clear standards for personal behavior, providing early detection of potential problems and intervention before abuse occurs," said Lolita Allen, LCSW Family Advocacy Program Analyst, Commander, Navy installation Command. "Leadership is critical in establishing a climate that promotes prevention by encouraging Sailors and their families to take advantage of services and programs."

"Commands need to be more supportive, especially when it comes to emotional abuse," said former Chief Petty Officer Dena Hargrave, who has been documenting her abuse for more than a decade. "My soon-to-be ex-husband is still active duty military. His command takes his word for what goes on between us despite my official reports and documentation. There has never been a proper investigation and this leaves the victim feeling helpless and at a loss."

Hargrave has filed reports twice with FAP, but said they need to do more for victims of emotional abuse.

"They are mostly focused on physical abuse because emotional abuse is often too difficult to prove. They realize that there is a problem, but are unsure what to do. It's not just the abused who needs help, but also the abuser. If the cycle is going to stop then more needs to be done to rehabilitate the abuser."

The Family Advocacy Program assists Navy leaders, who may not understand the dynamics of DV, by providing victim advocacy, clinical counseling and case management services. When victims of abuse contact the Family Advocacy Program, trained, experienced clinical providers and/or Domestic Abuse Victim Advocates are available to assist them with establishing and maintaining safety, providing them with resources and creating a support plan that empowers him/her.

"I was covered in bruises on a regular basis, had multiple busted lips, a busted nose, and even a gun placed to my head," said Chief Petty Officer Teresa Alvarez. "I always heard of women in abusive relationships and thought that I would never let a man do that to me. Yet here I was. He was a manipulator that broke me down little by little and "put me in my place" through physical and mental abuse. He took me home to meet his parents and even abused me in his parents' home. His mother had to stop him. I would go into work and would pray that someone would see my bruises and question them but no one ever did. Two years into the relationship I decided to try leaving again. In a blink of an eye his hands were around my throat. The force that he came at me with caused the couch to flip and I was now struggling on the floor thinking to myself this is it. I just wanted to get out alive."

Alvarez was able to leave and eventually purge him from her life, "but not a year goes by without me thinking that I should have done more to stop this person from hurting someone else. What I didn't realize then is that the weak person is really the one inflicting the physical and mental abuse."

Domestic Violence doesn't just affect you, it affects everyone around you who loves and cares for you, said Chief Jessica Myers.

"My mother would cry, in constant fear that she would one day receive a call with devastating news," said Myers. "Thankfully one day I had enough strength to say "no more" and took a stand to finally change the home environment for my children and myself. Becoming a single mother was challenging, but I made it work. I would much rather live on a tighter budget and know my home was safe, vice living in misery.

"It would have been amazing if someone would have believed me when I did tell them," said Hargrave, who eventually had to give up her Navy career to gain more control over her life. "My command was supportive, but many knew and didn't want to interfere, so I kept a lot to myself."

"My advice for anyone going through this alone and in silence is to seek assistance," said Myers. "Life is too short to continually feel miserable, alone, and afraid. Verbal abuse is just as bad, if not worse, than physical abuse -- both leave a lasting mark. No one has the right to make you walk on egg shells in your own home, or to tear down your self-esteem. You must take control of your life again. But you cannot do it alone. Utilize the programs offered to you and seek help. You will feel so much better when you do. "

"Commands should take all reports of emotional and verbal abuse seriously and contact the Family Advocacy Program to make an official report," said Allen. "Determining whether the report initiates the process for domestic violence is a Family Advocacy Program responsibility. Commands should report all allegations of abuse. FAP personnel are available to assist Navy leaders in appropriately responding to reported acts of abuse, to include emotional abuse."

To help service members get the help they need, Congress created a Task force on Domestic Violence. This task force made nearly 200 recommendations for improving the military response to domestic violence. Many of these recommendations have now been implemented, including alternate reporting options for victims.

In 2005, the DoD instituted the restricted reporting option. Adult victims of domestic abuse now have two reporting options: unrestricted reporting and restricted reporting.

Unrestricted Reporting

Unrestricted reporting supports effective command awareness, prevention programs as well as law-enforcement and criminal-justice actions that maximize accountability and prosecution, as appropriate, of domestic-abuse offenders. Victims of domestic abuse who want to pursue an official command or criminal investigation of an incident should use the unrestricted reporting channels, including chain of command, FAP, or law enforcement.

Restricted Reporting

The restricted reporting process allows an adult victim of domestic abuse, who is eligible to receive military medical treatment, the option of reporting an incident of domestic abuse to a specified individual without initiating the investigative process or notification to the victim's or offender's commander.

Each of the services has continued to strengthen its protocols for protecting victims and holding batterers accountable.

The Navy Domestic Abuse Victim Advocate (DAVA) Program provides services to victims of domestic violence.

Within FAP, the DAVA provides a broad range of services to military-affiliated victims of domestic abuse. Advocacy services are provided with the goal of increasing victim safety and autonomy. Services include responding to victims' emergency and ongoing safety concerns and needs; providing information on programs and services available to victims and their children in both civilian and military communities; and providing victims with ongoing support and referrals.

"Reservists are required to attend the same annual GMTs and maintain the same mission readiness standards, but education on these important programs rarely trickles down from the active component to the Reserve component," said Myers. "Perhaps if I had known about programs that dealt with domestic violence, I may have sought help sooner, rather than the violence escalating to the point of him being permanently removed from the home and our divorce being granted on the basis of physical and mental cruelty."

"Fighting back is hard," said Hargrave. "Keeping your head up as a victim is very difficult. It happens to so many people, male and female. Be aware that you are not powerless! Educate yourself, and support your shipmates. Most importantly know you are not alone."

If you are in an abusive relationship, contact Military OneSource at 1-800-342-9647. You may also contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY). OCONUS personnel can seek assistance from the Americans Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center at 1-866-USWOMEN (879-6636).

You can find the nearest Fleet and Family Service Center in your area at www.ffsp.navy.mil.