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Commentary | Oct. 5, 2010

Because love should not hurt: Battling domestic violence

By Julie Couture JBLE Family Advocacy Outreach Manager

The real life drama in Hollywood of people like Chris Brown and Rihanna, Mel Gibson and Oksana Grigorieva, Charlie Sheen and Brooke Mueller has put the issue of domestic violence in the spotlight. It is intriguing that some "know" who is telling the truth, who is lying, and who is capable of what actions. In the case of Rihanna and Chris Brown, some said she deserved the beatings, and even provoked him. With Mel Gibson and his former girlfriend Oksana, there are two camps squarely facing off. Some paint Gibson as an evil man, where others describe Grigorieva as manipulative. Brooke Mueller's past of addiction treatment was used to cast doubt on her credibility. Therefore, in the eyes of some, she must either be lying or is responsible for anything that occurred - if anything occurred at all.

The court of public opinion for celebrities functions in a similar manner to incidents that occur with people we know. Often, we mistake someone's stellar work performance or outward public behavior as an indication of their personality and character in all circumstances. In truth, we only see what someone allows us to see. There are far too many families - military and civilian - who have lived with domestic violence out of fear that they, too, will be under the same scrutiny as celebrities.

The dynamics of domestic violence go beyond someone being angry and lashing out. Everyone feels anger at one point or another, but not everyone chooses to take it out on their loved ones. Domestic violence is more than a bad temper - it is about having control over another person. With domestic violence, someone decides that they are justified in hurting their loved one. They rationalize their own behavior by pointing the finger at the victim. The reasons are endless, and range from having insecurities and feeling jealous, to having unrealistic expectations and entitlements about how they should be treated.

Domestic violence is gradual. The physical beatings that people endure usually transpire after they have lived with emotional and verbal abuse for years. Constant put-downs, blame, and insults are indicators that someone is abusive. The occasional snide remark said out of hunger, fatigue, or a bad day is not nice, but it is not typically said with the intention of controlling another.

Continually belittling someone, destroying a loved one's property, and forcing someone to choose him or her over others, whether it be a pet, family, and/or friends, are all ways that people can try to control others. The process is so gradual that the minor behavior - the insults, "isolated" incidents where property (regardless of how big or small) is broken, or incessant phone calls or texts to determine one's whereabouts - are often overlooked or justified. When the physical abuse occurs, the victim may not have the ability to leave. To add insult to injury, some offenders will go to great lengths to appear as though they themselves are the victims - that their actions were done to "protect" themselves as they are the ones who live in fear. The mind games and manipulation can be defeating to a victim who wants justice, but finds none.

Unfortunately, the military has its fair share of domestic violence incidents. They involve people of all backgrounds, faiths, and ranks. Women have been abusive towards their male partners, and vice versa. Pets have been killed, cell phones and personal property have been damaged, and people have been threatened or, tragically, killed as a result of domestic violence. The reasons people stay in abusive relationships are as varied as the people in the relationships themselves. For some, the life they live, although unpleasant and chaotic, is familiar. Anything else - even if it means safety and stability - is too scary to contemplate.

All members of the military, regardless of branch of service, and DoD civilians, are mandated reporters, and must report suspicions of domestic violence to the Family Advocacy Program. However, there is a restricted reporting option that may be available to those who are suffering from domestic violence. With restricted reporting, there are no notifications to command. Those being hurt are able to obtain counseling and treatment as long as they are not in immediate danger, have not told others of the incidents, and do not have children who have been hurt by the incident. The primary goal of the Family Advocacy Program at Joint Base Langley-Eustis is to prevent and treat all forms of domestic violence in our military families.

If you suspect that someone may be living with domestic violence, take them seriously and let them know that help is available. Tell them you believe them. Regardless of how things may seem in the light of day, remember that no one knows what goes on behind closed doors. After all, the truth really is stranger than fiction.

Editor's Note: Family Advocacy is accepting cell phone donations to be used for victims of domestic violence. Cell phones can be dropped off at the FAP office, which is located at Langley AFB on the first floor of Aerospace Medicine, Bldg. 74. To learn more about the specific programs Family Advocacy offers, please call 764-2427.