Inequity and fear is all it takes -- Domestic Violence Awareness
October 19, 2011
SCHWEINFURT, Germany -- With autumn in full swing, we enjoy sunny weather, watch beautiful foliage and plan ahead for the upcoming holiday season -- and of course Halloween. While on the hunt for costumes, shoppers might notice something else October has brought: 16 red silhouettes from the Silent Witness Project that have been distributed across USAG Schweinfurt.
Originally, the Silent Witness project started in 1990 when a group of women created the first set of these human-shaped cutouts-- a total set of 26 -- to raise awareness for domestic violence. Each silent witness represented a real victim who lost their lives to domestic violence during that year. A 27th statue was added, symbolizing all unreported cases.
Individual silhouettes range in size, depicting women, men and even children. The approach is geared to be deliberately tangible; spectators don't just read the stories displayed, but have a chance to actually encounter these victims, explained Don Kreager, specialist and acting manager of the ACS Family Advocacy Program.
"The reason why these kinds of projects exist is to promote a victim's ability to speak up," Kreager said. "There is a taboo around domestic violence and a lot of social pressure to stay in such a situation, to try to fix it for yourself and the sad thing about that is, that this feeds even more into the isolation that oftentimes already exists."
Besides the social pressure, motives for a victim to stay in an abusive household are predominantly emotional, which makes it difficult for anyone concerned to comprehend the full extent of their situation -- mostly victims don't even realize the problem before it's well-advanced.
"Domestic violence is insidious and happens so slowly that it's difficult to recognize it at first," Kreager noted. "It's a progressive cycle where control is exerted and someone else's ability to control is removed until you've reached a point where you feel like there is no escape and only helplessness."
According to Kreager domestic violence generally follows a cycle of escalation and subsequent apologies, which make it difficult to detect the beginnings. After an attack, physically or even just verbally, the offender apologizes, gives cards, flowers or candy raising the victim's hopes for change -- and then the cycle repeats itself.
"Also, you want to believe the best about the people that you care for," Kreager added. "You want to believe that somehow they recognize what they are doing is wrong."
This is an idea the aggressor often reinforces. In other situations an offender might make a victim believe, that they "don't have it so bad" or that the victim is actually at fault by triggering the offender's behavior or -- reversing roles even further -- the offender might threaten to hurt themselves or others (maybe kids) -- variations are manifold.
But then how do we recognize potential domestic violence for ourselves or others?
"Equity is the key in a relationship, it acts like an insulator against domestic violence," Kreager explained. "Where the relationship is equitable, where there is equality, it is very difficult for domestic violence to exist, because then the person knows 'this is unacceptable'."
While one might only consider physical assaults domestic violence, Kreager says that the only necessary factors are an inequality of power and a victim's fear. Knowing about the victim's difficulty to escape, Kreager also specifically targets outsiders with this current Silent Witness campaign.
"The silent witness project is all about trying to help people be aware," Kreager emphasized. "If you're the friend or if you're in the chain of command or you work with this person, if you are the bystander, you have the ability to say 'this is what I see'. You can give someone direction, not just sympathy, because that doesn't help."
Bystanders, victims or others interested can acquire more information in FAP classes and at the Victim's Advocate Office at ACS. Potentially affected persons can turn to Military Life Consultants (MFLC) or also Chaplains, who both keep conversations confidential and offer those in need or those even worried a neutral opinion.
Kreager knows how victims lose perspective and urges anyone in doubt to take the first step, reach out and get information. Domestic violence does not have to affect a military career and it does not have to be the end of a relationship, as long as it's recognized and treated early on and a victim's safety can be ensured.
"No matter how many flowers they [the offenders] bring home, no matter how many apologies came up, it doesn't change their behavior," Kreager said. "They chose to act in that way and highly likely they will decide to act like this again and then we might have to add another silhouette to the Silent Witnesses. You do not want this."