October is a national Domestic Violence Awareness month and a time to remind military families about the available prevention resources in your community. As a mobile population, military families may not be familiar with navigating local resources or know where to go for help.
If you’re the victim of domestic abuse, you may have thought for months or years about leaving the relationship. But leaving is scary, and it’s hard to do. Victims often feel trapped and very much alone. They may fear for their own and their children’s safety. Or they’re financially dependent on the abuser and may have no means of support. Within military families, victims are also likely to be far from their support system of family and friends back home.
Victims who need to get out of an abusive relationship can get support from the military, but they also need help and encouragement from friends, relatives, co-workers and trusted professionals. With planning and support, you can build a healthy and safe new life for yourself and your children.
Q: How do I come up with a safety plan?
A: Contact the Family Advocacy Program (FAP) office on your installation to request a victim advocate. A victim advocate can give you information about reporting options and services for victims, including help finding a shelter or other safe place to go. Once you have a safe place to go, talk to trusted friends or family members about the situation. Come up with a code word or signal so that confidant knows when to call for help. Go over safety plans with your children. Teach your children how to call 911 if they need help. Most importantly, plan ahead in case you need to leave on short notice. Gather important documents in one place, preferably away from where you live.
Q: Are there any legal actions I can take?
A: You can get a restraining order or Military Protective Order (MPO) to discourage your spouse from returning home, entering your place of work, or contacting your children. A restraining order or MPO can usually be extended to child-care centers or providers. Remember that neither a restraining order nor an MPO will prevent your spouse or partner from returning home or entering your workplace, but it does make it illegal for him or her to do so. Contact an attorney or court advocate specializing in domestic abuse. He or she can explore custody, visitation, and divorce provisions to protect you and your children. Your Legal Assistance Office can help you obtain legal information and provide general guidance. For issues such as child custody and divorce proceedings, they will refer you to legal services in the civilian community.
Q: I feel like no one understands the situation. Where can I turn for help?
A: Find your local FAP office by using the locator at Military INSTALLATIONS or calling your installation operator or Family Support Center. Call a domestic abuse hotline. They are available twenty-four hours a day at the National Violence Hotline (888-799-SAFE ) and can help you find shelter, counseling, support groups, job training, and legal assistance in your area. Utilize any support group you can. While you may feel alone, many others have also suffered domestic abuse. By joining a domestic abuse support group, you’ll gain strength and support from being around them.