A closeup of friends holding hands

Bystander Intervention


Lately, my mornings have been so hectic. Running here and there, trying to get everyone ready and out the door. But today was different. I woke up before the kids and dogs and husband, and enjoyed my cup of tea while it was still hot. That is a big deal!

With all of this rare quiet time, I found myself thinking back to a situation from a few years ago that I’ve never felt 100 percent good about. My husband was deployed, and I was just getting used to our new life on a new installation. I missed him desperately, but I knew that we were making sacrifices together as a team.

I remember being snuggled up with my three dogs in our new house, and my phone rang. I assumed it was my husband calling from overseas, but as I listened to the ring tone I soon realized that it wasn’t the bouncy sound of a video chat coming through. By the time I got to my phone, I had missed the call. Immediately the phone rang again, and I quickly answered. A shaky voice came through the line and asked, “Can you come help me?” It was a good friend of mine that I met through a mandatory fun night. I asked for the details of where she was and what she needed. She didn’t say much, but I could sense something was wrong.

When I arrived at her home, it was dark — no lights on in the whole house. I went around to the back door, as she had instructed, fearing what I would find. There she was — propped up against the wall. I used the light of my cell phone to see her face. There was some blood, scratches and she could barely stand up. I helped her to the car and drove straight to the emergency room at the county hospital. (She was too frightened to get treatment on base.) As we drove to the ER, she admitted that she was scared and angry, but didn’t know what to do about her husband.

Once we were in the safety of the hospital, the police came to take her statement. She said that, after her husband had too much whisky, he got mad, beat her and then took off. I was shocked by what I was hearing, because, at first glance, they looked like a happy couple. But then it started to make more sense as I thought about them together, and the demeaning way that they talked to each other in a group setting. Why did I not see it sooner? My friend — a strong, beautiful, woman — was a victim of domestic violence.

We spent the several hours at the hospital. The police came in to pursue the case and talked about her options. She chose not to press charges. When we returned to her house, her husband was nowhere to be found. She assured me she would be fine, and repeatedly asked that I leave. So I did — I went home.

As I think back on that time, I wonder — did I do the right thing? Could I have helped her more?

Now, a few years out, I know I could have done more. All of those awkward moments where her husband yelled at her while I was in their company, and all of the uncomfortable times she would allude to them fighting were opportunities to speak up. I could have offered to listen to her feelings instead of avoiding the topic because it was uncomfortable for me. I could have helped her figure out her options and assured her that her safety is more important than anything else.

At the time, I didn’t realize that she had options to get help without anyone else in the military knowing, though I am sure I had been told where to find this info in some spouse training at some point.

In the end, my friend’s wounds (both physical and mental) healed, her husband came home and apologized, and he was required to participate in treatment. She learned about Domestic Abuse Victim Advocates and other services available to her. He got sober, and she got better at standing up for herself. Their marriage survived and they seem to be stronger than ever. Serious props to them for persevering! We all have thoughts about staying together through challenging times in our marriage, but that is a different topic for a different blog.

I wish I could say that I did everything I could to help her. So, I ask you, how will you respond? What will you do in a similar situation? Will you embrace that awkward moment and speak up? I know it is uncomfortable — but what if you are the only person with enough courage to say something?

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Please visit the Military OneSource website or reach out to the National Domestic Abuse hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233) for more information.

This post was written anonymously. 

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