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How to Help Service-Connected Victims of Domestic Abuse

No one ever deserves to be abused. Anyone can be a victim of domestic abuse — a friend, relative, neighbor or co-worker. Once you understand domestic abuse, you can support victims safely, confidentially and at their own pace. Discovering abuse can be embarrassing and frightening for victims, so you'll need to tread lightly. And some victims may never report their abuse. If you ever feel a victim is in immediate danger, get help right away.

Understanding domestic abuse

Domestic abuse usually involves a pattern of both violence and emotional and verbal abuse. It's important to understand domestic abuse so you can recognize it and offer help to victims.

  • Abusers may hurt their victims and maintain control over them using insults, put-downs, public humiliation and name calling, along with physical abuse. Abusers may threaten violence, suicide, financial deprivation, or to take away the children.
  • The abusers need to feel powerful and in control of another person's behavior and actions underlies all domestic abuse.
  • High levels of stress created by the cycle of deployment and reintegration, recovery from physical or psychological injuries, or military transitions can add to the risk of abuse.
  • Frequent relocations that separate military families from friends and other social support systems can add to high levels of stress.
  • Economic dependence of many military spouses can prevent someone from reporting abuse  

Warning signs of abuse

Being aware of the signs is the first step in getting help or offering support to someone who may be at risk. Some of the signs of domestic abuse are:

  • Fear of one's spouse or of ending the relationship
  • Physical abuse, including grabbing, pinching, shoving or hitting
  • Emotional abuse, such as put-downs, embarrassment or humiliation in private or in front of others
  • Social isolation, in which the victim isn't allowed to see or talk to relatives or friends
  • Threats of violence against the victim, the victim's children or people the victim loves
  • Unexplained bruises or injuries
  • Increased or unexplained absences from work
  • Harassing phone calls at work or at home
  • Withdrawal from friends, family or fellow service members

How you can help

If you have a friend, relative, neighbor or co-worker who may be a victim of domestic abuse, reach out and offer support. Many people are uncomfortable raising an issue they think is none of their business, or they're afraid that revealing suspicions will increase the risk of abuse or adversely affect a service member's career. But domestic abuse can be a matter of life and death. Here are ways you can offer support.

  • Show your concern. Let the person you're concerned about know you're ready to listen and help. Encourage the victim to seek medical attention for any injuries.
  • Offer information on support resources. You can urge your relative or friend to contact the installation's Family Advocacy Program to speak with a victim advocate. Or call the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-8255, press 1.
  • Make sure the victim understands the military's options for reporting domestic abuse. Except in certain circumstances, victims can get assistance from a Family Advocacy Program victim advocate and receive medical care without it automatically resulting in an abuse investigation or notification to the service member's command.
  • Call 911 if the victim is in immediate danger of assault or physical injury. If on a military installation, call your military law enforcement office.
  • Remind the victim of the impact of domestic abuse on children. Whether or not they physically experience violence, children living in violent households suffer emotional and psychological damage.
  • Remind the person that abusers rarely stop without help, regardless of promises. An incident of domestic abuse is often followed by a "honeymoon" period. When tensions mount, the violent behavior returns.
  • Be there for the person. A victim of domestic abuse may need you to make phone calls, go with him or her to the police or help with childcare while working out a safety plan. Although you can't do it all, ask and do what you can to help.
  • Respect the victim's decisions. You may wonder why the victim stays in an abusive relationship. Many reasons may exist—none of them are simple.
  • Respect and support the victim who chooses to stay. A victim often returns to the abuser several times before leaving for good. Your continued help, support and encouragement are vital.