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The adage attributed to Benjamin Franklin that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” has never seemed more true than in today’s battle against domestic violence, particularly to those who work to prevent it every day, like Betty McCain, Fort Wainwright’s Family Advocacy Program manager.
“What we do here is prevention,” she said. “That’s what we do.”
The concept of prevention strikes a chord with service providers like McCain on the frontlines of the battle against domestic violence, and serves as a rallying cry, particularly during October, National Domestic Violence Awareness month and Army Domestic Abuse Prevention month, when the nation pays more attention to the fact that domestic abuse is a very real part of American life and military life, as well.
“The goal behind Domestic Violence Awareness month is to give out information about domestic violence, prevention, treatment, what happens after there is an incident, what services we have to help prevent incidents from happening, such as a new parent support program, parenting program (and) marriage enrichment classes,” McCain said. “There is domestic violence out there,” but there are prevention programs available to help and there is treatment available, she added.
According to statistics from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in every four women will experience domestic abuse in her lifetime.
While men can be victims, too, the organization estimates 85 percent of domestic violence victims are women and 1.3 million women are physically assaulted by an “intimate partner” each year.
A troubling fact, and one that adds extra levels of difficulty to the work of service providers, is research indicates most cases of domestic violence are never reported to law enforcement officials.
The military, and forts Richardson and Wainwright specifically, are not immune from the reality and impact of domestic violence.
According to data from fiscal years 2008 and 2009 provided by the Directorate of Emergency Services at both installations, verbal abuse incidents in fiscal year 2008 at Fort Wainwright peaked in November 2007 with 12 incidents and fell to zero in September 2008, the same month Soldiers from the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, deployed to Iraq.
Physical abuse incidents remained steady throughout the year. Fiscal year 2009 saw a significant decline in both physical and verbal abuse incidents, although the numbers have begun to increase since the recent redeployments.
While Fort Richardson’s incident numbers are considerably lower than those from Wainwright, their incident numbers increased in fiscal year 2009, with the number of physical abuse incidents more than doubling the total from fiscal year 2008.
This is unacceptable to those who work with Soldiers and family members daily to stop domestic violence.
“You fight for freedom every day,” said Denise Mitchell, Fort Wainwright’s Army Community Service director. “You fight for me to be free, for each other to be free, for your families to be free and for all of us to enjoy the privileges that we have of being in the United States of America.
“Why are you fighting to lose your freedom?” she asked. “Because ultimately, if you kill your spouse, you’ll be locked up forever.”
Even though there are unique aspects to military life that can add to domestic disputes, like deployment-related conditions and combat stress, according to Mitchell, the core motivation behind domestic violence is the same across the board.
“Domestic abuse is basically power and control,” she said. “That’s what it’s about.”
She hopes domestic violence victims will seek help now, while they can.
“The sad thing is that a lot of people who are in abusive relationships want to get out, but there are so many fear factors involved that they can’t get out,” Mitchell said. “Victims tend to blame themselves first, ‘Well, if I had only done this or if I had only said that, this would not have happened.’”
When victims do not come forward, they are often dooming their children to repeat their fate, according to McCain.
“It affects all of the people in the family,” she said. “It’s not just the victim and the offender. It’s the children that are in the family; extended family as well. It’s far-reaching.”
In fact, according to NCADV statistics, boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners as adults.
If this is not sufficient motivation for victims to seek help, the fact that in the state of Alaska, a report of mental injury will be filed with the Office of Children’s Services if children are in the home during an incident of domestic violence should also spur families to get help, Mitchell said.
“You’ve got the power to live free,” Mitchell added. “You’re teaching your children to live in a free world. Why imprison them?”
Until victims seek help, or the unthinkable happens and someone is hurt or killed, the cycle of violence will most likely continue, according to McCain.
Service providers regularly feel frustrated by this fact, but at the end of the day, there is no easy way to identify an abuser or often, even a victim, because of the varying types of emotional, sexual, verbal and physical abuse.
“You can’t tell,” Mitchell said. “People have become so skilled with living with it.”
Education is the key, according to McCain, who focuses on training, conducting needs assessments and doing whatever she can to get information into the hands of Soldiers and family members who need it.
“Think about the consequences of your actions,” she said. “Think about how this will affect your military career. Think about your children and the example you are setting for them.”
All Soldiers and Department of the Army civilian employees are required to attend annual domestic abuse awareness training.
Additionally, the Family Advocacy Program provides mandated domestic abuse awareness training for new commanders, as well as training for those who request it.
They will also customize the training to a specific unit’s needs and demographics upon request.
In conjunction with Domestic Violence Awareness month, Fort Richardson conducted a series of Domestic Abuse Community Awareness trainings this week and Fort Wainwright presented a Service Provider Awareness Conference Thursday.To request domestic violence awareness training, resources or for more information at Fort Wainwright, call McCain at 353-7317, or at Fort Richardson, call Barbara Hopkins-Cox, acting Family Advocacy Program manager, at 384-0504.