EDWARDS AFB – A group of 23 volunteers, both military and civilian, wore moulage bruises and cuts to work Oct. 24. As they worked and went about their day, they observed the reactions of those around them. Some encountered strangers that stared and walked away without saying a word. Others were asked by their co-workers if something was wrong. One woman, while in a meeting, was loudly asked, “Who punched you in the face?”
Oct. 24 was Domestic Violence Awareness Day, and the made-up bruises were part of an exercise, sponsored by Family Advocacy, to raise the level of awareness at Edwards AFB.
“We want to see if people are paying attention to victims of domestic violence,” said Susan Cartwright, Family Advocacy program outreach manager. “We want to see who is observant and who is going to ask.”
Staff Sgt. Samón Carver, 412th Medical Group, NCOIC of Outpatient Records, was one of the volunteers that day. Only half of the people she encountered asked if she was okay. She observed that people seemed “uncomfortable” asking about the bruises on her face. Only those who knew her on a personal basis asked at all. Of those who did ask, some came across indiscreet, asking in public settings.
“I think that I would be less likely to open up about what was going on in a room full of people with everyone staring at me. It was embarrassing and it made me think if the bruise wasn’t make-up and was real, I would have been emotional or would have made up a story,” said Carver.
“Awareness cannot be expressed enough. I think that, as a society, we should be more responsive to others’ needs, to include when someone needs help. The whole ‘I don’t want to get involved’ idea should go away. Should we see someone with a black eye, busted lip or scrape on the face, ask if the person is okay. Ask if they have sought medical attention or spoken with someone. This society is [comfortable asking] about everything else but too scared to ask about each other’s wellbeing? That makes no sense to me,” said Carver.
Cartwright added that people are often reluctant to get involved in another person’s life. In some cases, they may not have even noticed that something was wrong. She advised that if you see someone with a bruise, don’t make an assumption as to its origin, whether it’s domestic violence or not.
“Let’s flip it over for a second and ask how you would feel if you found out that a person had been involved in a domestic violence situation. Maybe something more horrible happened and [it resulted in a fatality] you knew early on and didn’t do anything about it,” said Cartwright. “I try to put myself in that mind frame.”
If an injury is related to domestic violence the next step is to see if the alleged victim is thinking about reporting it. Much like sexual assault cases, Family Advocacy offers both restricted and unrestricted reporting options. While an unrestricted report is sometimes necessary, a restricted report can prove to be very beneficial to an alleged victim. A restricted report is about safety planning, emotional support and collecting resources. There is no medical attention or investigation at that point, but a report can be made unrestricted at any time.
“I would love for more of the base to be aware of that because a lot of times a person who is in that cycle of violence may not be ready to leave just yet. They can feel a lot of judgment from people about that, but they might need time to plan things out. They may need to get birth certificates and cash and plan how to get out,” said Capt. Morgan Bergman, 412th MDG, Family Advocacy officer.
According to Bergman, it takes the average domestic violence victim seven attempts to leave before they’re successful. When the alleged victim does finally leave, they are at their highest risk of fatality because the offender is most angry at that time.
“While it’s not going to feel good to have someone come in my office, create a safety plan and go back into the home where the abuse is happening, it’s on their terms. They know their life and they know what’s safe and what’s not safe for them,” said Bergman.
Cartwright noted that people who struggle with violence need safety plans too. Her goal is to help prevent domestic violence by creating a new skill set that offers an alternative action to violence.
“It’s important because we have zero tolerance for domestic violence and yet it continues,” Cartwright said. “It’s important to me because I’d like people to have other skills and tools to handle their emotions.”
If you are suffering from domestic violence or maltreatment, call Family Advocacy at (661) 277-5292, or call the Department of Defense National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE.
The Los Angeles County Domestic Violence Hotline is 800-978-3600.