USAG YONGSAN -- October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Originating from the Day of Unity, which was held in October 1981, DVAM has been observed since 1987. DVAM focuses on remembering those who have died because of domestic violence, celebrating those who have survived, and connecting those who work to end violence.
"Domestic violence is never acceptable," said President Trump in a proclamation signed Sept. 29, 2017. According to the proclamation, while the rate of domestic violence in our country has decreased over the last two decades, domestic violence continues to spread across the Nation. Nearly 1 in 4 American women aged 18 and older have been the victim of physical violence by an intimate partner, and domestic violence is still the leading cause of injury to women.
As part of the observance, U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan hosted the Purple Gala to honor the victims of domestic violence and celebrate the lives of survivors, Oct. 6, at the Main Post Club. The guest speaker, Mildred Muhammed, is a certified domestic violence advocate, trainer/educator/author, and speaker for the U.S. Department of State, shared her own story candidly and her views on domestic violence.
In the 2002, two snipers terrorized the Washington, D.C. area by shooting and killing 10 people. One of the snipers was John Muhammed, the former husband of Mildred Muhammed. She had been a victim of domestic violence and divorced John Muhammed in 2000. Muhammed was a sniper during the Gulf War. Shortly after being discharged, he began to exhibit signs of post-traumatic stress disorder and threatened to kill his ex-wife, calling her the "enemy."
It was later revealed that Mildred Muhammed had been the true target of the sniper attacks in D.C. Muhammed had changed her identity to protect herself and her children. In the aftermath of the snipers being captured, imprisoned and, in the case of John Muhammed, executed, she put forth every effort into protecting her traumatized children.
"All I know was that I had to take care of me and my children, and I tried to counsel my children," said Muhammed. However, she encountered many counselors who only wanted to become famous by associating themselves with Muhammed. "So I went to the library and got a book on counseling, and I counseled my children myself."
She also needed to correct her children's biases that their father had built in their minds.
"My son hated me," said Mildred. "He felt that I took him away from his dad. And so I had to take extra strides with him. The only way we're going to get through this is the truth. And that what we did was talk constantly."
Now she works to help other victims to overcome traumatic memories and find a normal life.
"I am a professional speaker, and I help other people to understand victimization and how they can get through it. Now I am pursuing life coaching because I want to help people to live an emotionally balanced life," said Muhammed.
She says domestic violence is a physical assault that is both humiliating and ultimately deadly. At the same time, she says the total picture of domestic violence is changing.
"Domestic violence has become an epidemic. Everyone here knows someone that is or was a victim of domestic violence," said Muhammed. "Statistics have changed. Now we know one in seven men are victims of domestic violence. Eighty-five percent of women are abused by men, and 15 percent of men are abused by women. So we need to take a total look at domestic violence."
In the hopes of preventing tragedies like hers, she has interacted with military communities to become an advocate for mental health and victims of domestic abuse for more than 15 years. "There are domestic violence units, special investigators for domestic violence, and the Family Advocacy Program that have an awareness of domestic violence and sexual assault," Muhammed said. "We have to let the people know that the programs are there."
She said Soldiers often do not want to talk to counselors out of fear that their conversations could become part of their records, jeopardizing their careers.
"The FAP will not take notes. They just want to help the Soldier get help," said Muhammed. "So we have to do a better job at letting the Soldier know that these services are available. A FAP person should be there to let Soldiers know what their benefits are, and what programs are available for them."
In the case of USAG Yongsan, FAP counselors use newcomers orientation as a venue for sharing information about FAP. By regulation, commanders are required to undergo annual training on domestic and child abuse.
Janine Harper, the Family Advocacy Program Manager for USAG Yongsan, said the biggest successes came when commanders were engaged with the training and came out to the front in ensuring their Soldiers were trained and aware.
Muhammed pointed out common misconceptions about domestic violence.
"Eighty percent of victims do not have physical scars to prove that they are victims. Abusiveness is not a mental illness. It is a conscious decision to control someone who has a life," said Muhammed.
Sometimes, people know when someone is a victim, but they don't know what to do for the person" said Muhammed. "When victims do come to you, there's only one question you need to ask, 'How can I help you?'"
It is important to set boundaries for yourself before extending assistance to others, she explained. "You have to ask yourself three questions: 'What will I do?' 'What won't I do?' and 'What can't I do?'" Will you give them money? Can they come stay with you? Can you give them resources?
People are tempted to say, "Why don't you leave? Why are you still in that relationship?" Muhammed said. But when you do that, you automatically take the side of the abuser. "Every victim knows he or she wants to leave, but not every victim knows how to do it alone."