ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - All branches of the Department of Defense observe Domestic Violence Awareness Month throughout October. The 2014 theme is "relationships should be safe, respectful and positive."
The focus of the campaign is to raise awareness of domestic violence, inform victims that help is available and emphasize the negative impact it has on Family readiness.
The Family Advocacy Program (FAP) is a congressionally mandated program intended to prevent and reduce incidences of violence and create an environment intolerant of domestic abuse.
The Army provides two types of reporting options for instances of domestic violence: restricted and unrestricted. Restricted reporting does not involve a military chain of command or law enforcement and maintains anonymity. Unrestricted reporting involves an investigation by an Army command or law enforcement.
All victims are eligible for services, including a medical evaluation and counseling, regardless of which reporting option they choose.
APG Army Community Service Victim Advocate Coordinator Michael Farlow is specially trained to handle cases of domestic violence involving Soldiers and their Families. The victim advocate is available to help empower domestic violence victims to find the resources that they need.
Farlow assists victims with making a safety plan, finding emergency shelter and other needed resources, as well as offering moral support. In some cases, the victim advocate can serve as a liaison, accompanying the victim to meetings with lawyers and to court.
"I am their support person," he said. "Victim advocates try to prevent the abuse from continuing and give them an out."
Farlow, a military veteran and former police officer, said he has seen an increase of domestic violence cases around the holidays and the first of the year. Drinking, strained finances and high expectations all add to the stress of the holiday season.
"Domestic violence incidents increase during times of stress," he said.
Farlow added that most military Families deal with stress on a daily basis.
"The stress level that a military spouse or a military Family is going through is a lot different than your average Family," he said.
This year, ACS has partnered with Verizon to help domestic violence victims receive free phones so they can reach out to emergency and support services in times of crisis. This program is called the HopeLine.
"These tools help the victim transition from being dependent on the abuser to being independent and being able to live on their own," he said.
Farlow added that domestic violence is about control.
"The dynamic of domestic violence is not about abuse," he said. "It is all about control. The abuser will use any means possible to remain in control."
In addition to victim advocate services, ACS also provides free preventative programs like anger management classes and conflict containment classes, by referral. Chaplains on post also provide free marriage counseling. For more information, call the Main Post Chapel at 410-278-4333.
Kirk U.S. Army Health Clinic's Behavioral Health Care Services also offers a variety of counseling services, crisis intervention and referral assistance to Soldiers, Family members, and military retirees. KUSAHC can also screen and refer contractors and DOD civilians to community resources.
The ACS FAP is partnering with several organizations to host events throughout October to raise awareness of domestic violence. Farlow said these events are designed to reach the entire community.
"We are taking a proactive approach," he said. "We do not want to keep domestic violence in the dark."
ACS hosted a "Prince and Princess Day" at the APG South (Edgewood) child development center Oct. 9. During this event, Farlow and his wife, Karen, talked to the children about treating others with respect.
"We are trying to promote healthy behaviors from the very beginning," He said. "We want to teach the kids that they all should be treated like princes and princesses."
The Protestant Women of the Chapel is hosting an event called "Mind, Body and Spirit for the Woman" at the Main Post Chapel Oct. 16 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The event will focus on how women can build personal resiliency. Vendors will hand out information on the resources they offer on post.
On Oct. 17, guest speakers from the Maryland Community Crime Prevention Institute and Harford County Sheriff's Office will talk about responsible use of social media and texting at the APG North (Aberdeen) youth center from 7 to 9 p.m. During this event, parents will learn how they can protect their children from online predators.
Ann Thacker from the Maryland DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program will talk to teens about the pros and cons of social media and healthy relationships. This program is open to the entire APG community. For more information call 410-278-9061.
ACS and FMWR will team up to have the first "Driving Away Domestic Violence" Golf Tournament at Ruggles Golf Course Oct. 29. The cost is $30 per person, which includes golf, cart, dinner and prizes.
Golf Course Manager Richard Bond spearheaded the event and added a special "Purple Ball Challenge" to the tournament. Each team will receive a one-of-a-kind purple golf ball that must be played throughout and turned in with the team score card for the team to be eligible to win. For information about the golf tournament contact the Ruggles Golf Shop at 410-278-4794.
Every Monday through Nov. 3, ACS is hosting a "Strike Out Against Domestic Violence" bowling tournament from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the APG bowling center. The event is free and pizza and sodas will be provided to those who register to bowl. During the event, ACS will hand out information on domestic violence and be available for questions.
"This is an opportunity to get our information out there to the public," he said.
APG victim advocates can be reached 24 hours a day, seven days a week by calling the Domestic Violence Hotline at 410-652-6048, or the Sexual Assault Hotline at 410-322-7154.
National victim advocates can be reached at the DOD SAFE Helpline at 877-995-5247.
For KUSAHC Family Advocacy Appointments, call 410-278- 1768. For information about ACS FAP prevention classes, call 410-278-7572.
The Harford County Mobile Crisis Team, which provides 24/7 crisis intervention and suicide prevention, can be reached at 410-638-5248.