Change domestic abuse culture in the military
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I am a proud mother and the estranged wife of an active duty solider in the United States Army. I am also a devout patriot of the United States of America and its armed forces. I suffered years of domestic abuse at the hands of my husband and I barely escaped with my children and my life.
I am part of a large military family; since childhood, I have had an abundance of loyalty, love, and appreciation for those in the armed forces. When my husband began to abuse me, my lifelong perceptions of military life – the support I felt from my own military family – prompted me to seek intervention by following established channels. The steps I thought were correct ultimately put my children and I in even greater danger.
After much planning and counseling for myself to fight through the fear. I took a leap of faith and went to the United States Air Force (USAF) Domestic Abuse Victim Advocate (DAVA) who reached out to the command. Instead of getting the support I thought I would receive after his command acknowledged the horrendous abuse and isolation the children, pets,& I endured and after they recognized the lack of loyalty and respect he had for his family, the U.S. Army, his team,& people in general, that they would make it clear to him that his behavior was unbecoming as a soldier and deal with him accordingly. Given the unit’s elite status, I expected nothing less.
I was further isolated. Command provided my husband continuous support. My complaints were not addressed or resolved; instead, they made me a liability, Command deliberately interfered in my efforts to escape and continue life safely with our children on more than one occasion. Meanwhile, my husband was put through more special training in tactics and weaponry.
I will always keep my faith and respect for the military and only look to make it greater through greater change. My children and I will ALWAYS be eternally grateful for the USAF DAVA and the large collection of military family, in particular the military wives who pulled together to make certain they did all they could within their power to persevere our lives and safety.
This cannot stand, and I am hoping you will help me in my efforts to initiate meaningful change.
FACT: Domestic abuse is now part of the culture. Domestic abuse has become the norm, not the exception. Nobody talks about it or questions it, so by default it becomes permissible, and then comfortable. When something like domestic abuse becomes comfortable in the culture, it is very, very difficult to change without enormous resistance. In the meantime, the number of military families ensnared in this very unhealthy but very comfortable cycle continues to grow.
We expect military families to support those who serve. This is a much greater burden in families where service members go through special training meant to transform soldiers into sophisticated military weapons. Their training diminishes personal attributes like remorse, conscience, and empathy, with a logical net result. The better these soldiers become as weapons, the less able they are to access what makes them human beings. We must recognize the cause and the inevitable effect: domestic abuse.
I am writing today to ask for your help to exact CHANGE.
I believe domestic abuse in military families is 1) NOT acknowledged and 2) NOT adequately dealt with. My own experience with my husband and his team was a terrifying example of what amounted to acceptance of abuse in the unit, and this was NOT an isolated case.
Among my suggestions:
• Give Military Advocates, NOT Command, decision-making authority, and hold THEM accountable for success or failure in the management of domestic abuse cases.
Currently, a Military Advocate may make treatment “suggestions” when allegations of abuse are leveled against service members, but whether or not those suggestions are implemented is left to Command’s discretion, which often conflicts directly with the interests of victims.
This policy needs immediate reevaluation. Command are not social workers. They don’t have the education about abuse psychology, intervention, and treatment that Military Advocates have. They need to remain duty-focused, not fair to other service members, & their families. Their heads should be in the fields and job duties not elsewhere.
Military Advocates are often less intimidating and more approachable to victims than Command. It would benefit everyone involved if victims actively sought help before situations spiraled to dangerous levels. Military Advocates and intervention centers are better equipped to implement treatment like stress exercises and other preventative care into the home and to encourage awareness and provide support. If Military Advocates were the final decision makers, they could be more decisive, more proactive, and more effective keeping service members and their families safe.
• Reevaluate procedures to protect privacy of medical records. Victims are often dependent upon abusers to transport them to doctor appointments, severely limiting them from reporting abuse privately to those who might protect and/or help them.
One possible solution is to require family members to have a private initial visit with the doctor. During this visit, the doctor can establish a safe word or PIN to authorize the release of medical records. If a soldier then requests the release of a family member’s medical records – one way of maintaining control over an abuse victim -- without the safe word or PIN, the doctor could reasonably suspect abuse and contact the appropriate Military Advocate. This also added protection for victims who want to document abuse without abuser knowing.
• Make regular physical well-checks for all members of military families MANDATORY. This is the only way to record and track family members’ well-being and the best way to detect early signs of domestic abuse.
• Establish frequent contact between military families and support services, and increase training and awareness so Military Advocates can detect abusive situations earlier. Establish clear procedures for domestic abuse victims to follow to report and/or escape abusive situations and avoid creating more isolation. Communicate these procedures clearly and frequently to military families.
• If a service member displays unhealthy or unfavorable behavior on duty, require Military Advocates to check in on families, including pets and perform stress management evaluations as mandatory processes.
• Allow domestic abuse victims to transition OUT of abusive situations without interference by military personnel (Command/unit members). When victims choose to exit abusive situations, proactively prevent abusers from accessing information regarding the victims or their whereabouts.
• Implement and require treatment for both victims and abusers in cases where abuse is suspected. Foster independence by facilitating recovery for victims and abusers. Discourage unhealthy codependent abusive relationships.
• When service members have an open protective orders against them, require Command to notify victim(s) about post reassignments or other location changes that might put the victim(s) in danger.
• Allow victims/survivors to have full range to document their entire experience vs given the one page questioners provided during the intervention processes. Give them more voice! In their victim statement in the advocate board process.
• Allow command to support their service member through encouraged treatment plans. The military advocates will share information pertaining to their job functions with primary focus of healthy mental, emotional,& physical healthcare.
• Put all actions and treatment(s) made accessible under the "military umbrella" vs the "military branch".
Help save ALL lives on both ends of abuse!
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