By Brandon Beach, USAG Stuttgart Public AffairsOctober 23, 2008
STUTTGART, Germany - Near the entrance to the Panzer Main Exchange here stands a life-sized silhouette of a woman. Made of plywood and stained in red, a similar silhouette stands just a few feet from the ice cream machine at the Patch Dining Facility. They are places we visit frequently. The women, though, are people we rarely hear from every day. But each one has a story to tell.
They are the Silent Witness Silhouettes, part of this year's Domestic Violence Awareness Month campaign in Stuttgart, tributes to real victims who have lost their lives to abuse.
"Sad is beyond words," said Jacque Maldonado, a Stuttgart resident, after reading about Shalamar, 24, a military wife stabbed to death by her husband. "It just sends chills down you."
Chilling are the statistics.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that every year nearly 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by their partner.
More alarming are the 3.3 million children who witnessed domestic violence last year in their homes.
And many incidents just don't get reported, "especially with our military culture," said Tira Jones, a victim advocate coordinator at Stuttgart's Army Community Service.
But that is starting to change. Last year, the U.S. military introduced restricted reporting, giving victims the chance to speak up without an official investigation starting.
"It's helping," said Jones. "Now people can come in and say, 'Hey, I need to report abuse,' and we don't say, 'Ok, let me call the MPs [military police] first.'"
There are some exceptions to the rule.
"If there's child abuse going on, obviously that's something we cannot keep," said Jones.
"If someone threatens to commit suicide or homicide, those aren't things we can hold."
For Kelly Beck, a family advocacy program specialist at Stuttgart's ACS, it's seeing the red flags.
With Soldiers deploying frequently, "we're seeing that the stress levels have increased and that affects the family," said Beck. "A big part is just knowing where to find help."
This month, Jones, Beck and other members of Stuttgart's Family Advocacy Program have been working to get the word out.
As part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, ACS has conducted briefings for spouses and military units. They also organized a local clothesline project, which asked community members to illustrate a story of abuse on a T-shirt.
The clothesline was first displayed to the public on Saturday at the Panzer Mall, alongside several of the 12 silhouettes already set up throughout the Stuttgart military community.
For all the triggers that might set off a partner - post-deployment stress, work anxiety, lack of intimacy - domestic violence can never be considered an option.