WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. -- Every October since 1981, people wear purple and have conversations revolving around Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This year is no exception, as technology and hashtags create awareness at an unprecedented level.
However, the technology that is creating awareness is also an outlet for a different type of domestic abuse.
As technology progresses, its use is changing the dynamic of relationships. For some, it brings people closer together, and for others, it allows their abuser to always be at their fingertips. Abuse occurs when people use technology to control or maintain their relationship.
While abuse through technology can happen in a variety of ways, most often, it occurs through mobile phones or social media networks.
"This month, we are emphasizing how social media and smartphones play a factor in domestic violence," said Cynthia Valenzuela, Family Advocacy Program Manager at White Sands Missile Range. "People in jealous relationships are having conversations where things like, 'why do you have this person on your friend list' or 'if you love me you will unfriend this person,' are said or people are being tracked by their partners through their phone's GPS."
Creating awareness of technology as a platform for domestic abuse is at the forefront of the military community this month. As the modern day-to-day use of technology evolves, so do the types of potential violence.
Examples of technology abuse include sending threatening messages, tracking someone's whereabouts, or sharing explicit images of someone. Demanding your partner's passwords or constantly checking their phone log, are additional forms of technology abuse.
"Just because it's verbal or just because you do not have physical contact does not mean it's not mistreatment. Abuse, or harassment, it still falls under the same umbrella, just under a different light," said Valenzuela. "These days, people hide behind the screen, and text mean things. There is this impersonalization where they feel removed from the situation because it's not face-to-face, and they don't believe they did anything wrong."
A misconception of domestic violence is that there must be physical violence involved. That is not the case; there are different types of abuse, including physical, emotional, financial, and verbal.
All forms of abuse are damaging to the person going through it.
For example, Valenzuela explained that financial abuse usually happens when one person tries to control all the money in a relationship. If one person in the relationship works, and they only give their partner enough money to pay the bills, it makes the non-working person in the relationship feel dependent. Not having money also makes it difficult if they want to leave the relationship.
Indicators that something may not be right in a relationship is when someone:
• Gets anxiety about missing a call from a significant other
• Must ask permission from their partner to do everyday activities
• Has demeanor changes when their partner is around
• Begins to interact differently with others when their partner shows up
"If you think someone is getting abused, like a coworker, listen to your gut intuition, listen to what you are feeling," said Valenzuela. "You can come to talk to me, and we can discuss whether or not it can be abuse. I can guide you on what to present to your coworker like resources and phone numbers for advocates."
If you see someone in the act of physically abusing someone, call 911 immediately. You must always report a crime while it is happening.
If you see someone with a black eye or suspect abuse of some type, do not speculate. Instead, ask the person open-ended questions, such as 'what happened' or 'is everything okay.' This allows the person to use their own words, rather than being swayed by what you say.
"Accidents happen; we know that. It's when your story does not add up, or things do not make sense when we start to take a closer look," said Valenzuela.
Realistically, anyone can be abused or be the abuser at any point in his or her life. Nobody is immune from being in either role in their relationship. One moment of anger can flip a switch, which is why you can reach out to resources such as the Family Advocacy Program at White Sands Missile Range.
"Advocating, education and raising awareness is my main focus," said Valenzuela. "If you are feeling like you have a history of reacting a certain way, come see me. I am not only here for victims. I am here for everybody."
Valenzuela and her team are available to help with domestic violence issues. They will work with anyone in need of assistance, no matter what the situation. They help promote healthy relationships and encourage anyone in need or those who want to better their relationship to reach out. You do not have to be in crisis to visit their office.
Call Valenzuela at 575-678-2018. She can create a targeted program for your relationship needs or provide tools to help improve yourself.
WSMR Domestic Violence 24/7 Hotline: 575-993-7413.