By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterOctober 14, 2016
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Sometimes hearing about someone else's tragedies and their fight to overcome them is enough to give people the courage needed to speak out and seek help for themselves.
That's just what Army Community Service hoped to achieve with its presentation of "Mildred Muhammad: Scared Silent," where Muhammad shared her story and experience with domestic violence.
"Her story is significant because it addresses the impact that emotional and psychological abuse can have on victims, and that domestic abuse doesn't always leave visible scars," said Luticia Tremble-Smith, ACS family advocacy program manager. "It's not uncommon for victims of domestic violence to report abuse after hearing a personal testimony of survival."
"I try to help other people understand that you do not have to have physical scars to be a victim of domestic violence," said Muhammad during the presentation. "You do not deserve to be mistreated by anyone."
Muhammad is a survivor of domestic violence whose husband, John Allen Muhammad, most well known as the D.C. sniper, had her living a life of terror long before his acts of terror left 10 people dead in 2002.
During her presentation, she spoke about her experience as a military spouse and her husband's bout with posttraumatic stress, and the effects it began to have on their marriage and the way he treated her. She shared stories about his verbal abuse and multiple affairs, until ultimately she asked for a divorce.
Even after the separation, though, Muhammad said the trouble didn't stop. He would continue to come to her house after hours and pace in her bedroom while he thought she was sleeping, and although she would change the locks to the house, he would try to control the situation by telling her he would get the locks changed for her.
Muhammad said that she wasn't even able to change her phone number without him knowing, and it got to the point where she had to file for a restraining order. And that's when things began to get worse.
"He told me, 'you have become my enemy, and, as my enemy, I will kill you,'" she said. "He charged at me and threatened to kill me."
The situation eventually escalated to the point of the shootings, and it later came to light that Muhammad was the target. Throughout her ordeal with her ex-husband, she said she sought help from different friends and family members, but not all of them took her situation seriously.
She said she sought help from her brother and told him that her husband had threatened to kill her, but he didn't believe the threats were serious.
"He didn't believe me, so I never went to my brother for help again," she said.
When someone asks for help in situations like this, Muhammad said it's important to believe the person who is seeking help. Oftentimes it can make them feel alienated, which is something she said a victim of domestic violence should never feel.
"If you know someone, and you see them and they have their head down and you don't know what to do … just be social with them," she said. "Take them to lunch and know what you can do and what you will do to help.
"Ask the question, 'How can I help you?'" she continued. "Sometimes that's all they want to hear. Put yourself in their position, sit and listen, and then decide how much you can help."
Muhammad said people don't need to get completely involved in someone's situation if they don't feel comfortable, and if they feel that it's too much for them to handle, they should refer them to family advocacy because no one should be left out.
W01 Mike Chambers, 1st Battalion, 145th Aviation Regiment, said that hearing Muhammad's story was inspiring and believes that if she can get through her ordeal, then there should be hope for anyone.
"I didn't realize who she was at first, but when she started telling her story, I realized who she was," he said. "When you see a big story like that -- I never really thought about it from the spouse's point of view and what she had to go through.
"Listening to what was going through her mind throughout all the time leading up to the shootings really gives you some insight into what people who are victims of domestic violence have to go through and how deep it can run," he said. "It really makes you think."
Muhammad also provided a bit of advice for those who might be unsure whether they are in an abusive relationship or not.
She said they needed to sit down, by themselves, and evaluate the relationship.
"Get a sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle of the pros and cons," she said. "Evaluate the relationship, not the person. Changes happen over time, but when the changes become so significant that you don't want to go home or you don't want to see the other person, it's time to evaluate."
Muhammad said in order for this to work, people have to be brutally honest with themselves when evaluating the relationship, and they shouldn't try to justify any actions.
"If you need somebody to talk to, find someone," she said.
For more information on family advocacy and its programs, call 255-3246 or 255-3898. Also, confidential information and support are available through the Fort Rucker Family Advocacy Program victim advocate 24/7 hotline at 379-7947.