Commentary: Bring domestic violence out of shadows
October 24, 2008
FORT LEWIS, Wash. - Domestic violence is like toxic mold - it thrives in hidden, dark corners, but dies when exposed to open air.
This used to be a hidden crime, if it was taken seriously at all - either viewed as a normal part of family life, or as too shameful to be mentioned publicly. Many people even thought domestic violence was funny - any of you remember Ralph Kramden, on the old "Honeymooners" TV show raising his fist and promising "One day, Alice, - pow - right in the kisser''"
One of the great, positive changes in Army culture over the years is the ever increasing willingness to acknowledge and talk about domestic violence in Army families. There are resources available for families seeking help, places for victims to go for help, advocates and counselors to monitor the situation. It hasn't always been that way.
A number of years ago, I worked with a woman who was battered by her husband. One night it got especially bad - he blackened her eye and kicked her hard enough to break several ribs. She called the military police on the installation, but got little help. They treated it as a unit disciplinary problem and called up her husband's platoon sergeant. The NCO told the police that an evening drinking beer had left him in no condition to counsel a Soldier. Not to be deterred, the MPs offered to give the impaired platoon sergeant a ride to the scene of the beating.
Once there, the drunken NCO tried to caution the husband against a repetition, then they all - MPs and platoon sergeant - left. As if abandoning the children and an injured woman to the care of her attacker wasn't bad enough, it got worse. The husband's commander decided against any disciplinary action - it seems the husband had a critical role in preparing for an inspection of some sort. "Mission first" was the misplaced excuse.
There were those who tried to call attention to this miscarriage, but to no avail. The husband moved out of the quarters, the couple divorced and a few months later the woman moved to another part of the country. For all I know, the battering husband still serves in the Army somewhere.
That sort of tragedy is hard to imagine now.
It isn't that there aren't still cases of domestic violence in the Army. As long as there are couples, there will be some individuals who will turn their partners into victims. In that, the Army is no different from the rest of society. But there are serious efforts to help families head off growing problems before they turn violent. Leaders at all levels now go through multiple layers of instruction on how to identify potential problems and how to respond to them when they take place. Military police are given the training they need to respond to domestic problems appropriately - and always with priorities placed on the safety and health of possible victims.
Those efforts, we can hope, will reduce the frequency and severity of violence in the home. But they can never be so effective that it is safe for us to grow complacent.
That is why Fort Lewis holds campaigns to promote domestic violence prevention. Every member of our community has a role in preventing domestic violence.
Through our combined efforts we have a much better chance of pulling the infection into the open, where it can inevitably die and its victims can be returned to health.
David W. Kuhns Sr. is editor of Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.