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When it Comes to Domestic Abuse, Be an Upstander, Not a Bystander

Blog Brigade is supporting the Department of Defense’s 2021 Domestic Violence Awareness Month campaign with this important reminder that preventing domestic abuse is a shared community responsibility. The military community respects, supports and defends victims of domestic abuse. Please read our post below on how you can help.

You don’t have to live in an abusive household to have a story about domestic abuse. After all, one in four women and one in 10 men in the U.S. report being directly impacted by their experiences with relationship abuse. It seems nearly everyone has a story about a time at a restaurant, the grocery store or even a school drop-off when they heard or saw something that just seemed “off.” Maybe you heard someone speak to their significant other with hostility or disrespect; maybe body language made us take a second look, or maybe there was even a glimpse of physical abuse.

Granted, a one-time encounter with a seemingly off situation is tough to judge, but with the stay-at-home orders, social distancing, reopening of businesses, schools and limited day care facilities, as well as new rounds of quarantines during 2020 and 2021, we may not even have that one chance to see a telltale sign of domestic abuse. Navigating relationship safety during the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic can present different challenges for each person’s unique situation. Someone experiencing abuse within the walls of their home doesn’t feel comfort from the overused phrases of “safe at home” or “We’re all in this together.”

Tune in

We all have off days. We argue. We shoulder stress, these past two years especially. Higher stress, more time at home, and fewer in-person encounters with potential advocates sets a scary scene for someone at risk for or already enduring domestic abuse.

In the military community, we all have a duty to recognize the difference between couples who can’t seem to communicate and often disagree, and relationships in which one partner seems to always have the upper hand, belittle the other or act with aggression.

Circles are small now, and interactions — both social and professional — are limited. Tuning in to little signs of domestic abuse is arguably more important than ever before. Maybe you begin seeing vague social media posts that make you worry about a friend or neighbor. Maybe a friend opens up to you. Or, as the fishbowl of base living often allows, you may still be able to hear and see signs of abuse next door firsthand.

Consider the following warning signs from the National Domestic Violence Hotline:

  • Their partner puts them down in front of other people
  • They are constantly worried about making their partner angry
  • They make excuses for their partner’s behavior
  • Their partner is extremely jealous or possessive
  • They have unexplained marks or injuries
  • They’ve stopped connecting with friends and family
  • They are depressed or anxious

If you know the person well, you are likely to pick up on sudden personality changes, even with added distance between you.

How can I be an upstander without making the situation worse or risking my own safety?

If you have reason to fear for the immediate safety of yourself or someone you know, call 911 or base law enforcement.

If you know the victim — if it’s your friend, neighbor or colleague — it’s OK to ask the obvious question. “Do you feel safe at home?” It’s OK to be concerned, and you can show your support by:

  • Talking about the Family Advocacy Program, doing your best to remove the stigma and assure them that FAP can be a resource for their safety, and the safety of any children in the home.
  • Telling your friend to keep records of harmful or threatening actions including texts, emails and social media posts. These things can be useful in identifying patterns of behavior to create a safety plan, or down the line as evidence for law enforcement, if the abuse is severe and an unrestricted report is made.
  • Offering to keep copies of these records where they will not be found by the alleged abuser. Even if you can’t meet in person for this handoff, you can designate a safe drop-off spot.
  • Encouraging them to practice safe browsing when searching for resources and support, especially with increased activities online through remote work and school.

For situations that are concerning but not emergencies, you can share available resources and support. If someone you care about is experiencing domestic abuse, it can be difficult to know what to do. Your instinct may be to try and “save” them from their relationship or convince them to leave the person who is harming them.

The key thing to remember is that your job as an upstander is to support the choices of the victim — not to make decisions based on what you would do yourself. Domestic abuse is about power and control, so one of the best ways you can help a person in an abusive relationship is to consider how you might empower them to choose for themselves what is best for their safety and healing.

On base, your best bet is the Family Advocacy Program. Save the number in your phone for a quick reference. Off base, victims (or loved ones concerned for a victim’s safety) can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233, or chat with someone online. The hotline can refer you or the victim to resources outside the gate, including legal assistance and emergency and transitional housing options.

If you’re ever in doubt, think, “If I was in their shoes, what kind of support would I want someone to give to me?” Assure your friend, or anyone you know who may be experiencing domestic abuse, that they are not alone — that the military community has their back.

You can call Military OneSource at any time to get advice on how to connect to your local FAP and locate your Domestic Abuse Victim Advocate, or speak with a non-medical counselor for help navigating what can be a stressful but critical time as a friend, family member or loved one of somebody who is in a domestic abuse situation.

Kristi Stolzenberg
Written By Kristi Stolzenberg
Marine Spouse

Kristi started writing for Blog Brigade as a new Milspouse in 2008, and all of a sudden, she’s a seasoned (but not overly salty) Marine spouse.

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  • Marjorie Phillips Smith says:

    I always thought the military would take care of my daughter and grandchildren but after the experience they went through last year I know that is not true. I no longer have faith in the military. They protected the abuser. Offered no counseling or support to my daughter. A year into the divorce process and my daughter and grandchildren are still being subjected to my son in law controlling narcissistic ways. It’s been a long year for them all but hopefully it will be in court soon and some of it will be behind them.
    The last straw? My son in law held a loaded gun to his head while on leave (army reserve) in front of my daughter and grandkids and said they didn’t know how many times he thought about doing that and how many times he thought about doing it and taking them with him.

  • Social Media Admins says:

    Hi Marjorie. Thank you for contacting us. We are concerned for your family’s safety. Support is available from the Family Advocacy Program located at the installation nearest to you. The installation victim advocate locator is at https://www.militaryonesource.mil/leaders-service-providers/child-abuse-and-domestic-abuse/victim-advocate-locator/. The National Domestic Violence Hotline has trained advocates who are available 24/7 to talk confidentially. Call the hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233). If it’s not safe for you to call or if you don’t feel comfortable doing so, another option for getting direct help is to use their live chat service which can be found at http://www.thehotline.org/what-is-live-chat/.