Domestic abuse victim builds better life after assistance from victim advocate

By Collen McGeeOctober 28, 2021

It’s more than the classic definition. It’s more than broken bones and court cases. The idea of abuse, according to the victim advocates at the Fort Riley Army Community Service Domestic Abuse Program, includes several measures of control exerted over another.

“There are actually 6 kinds of abuse,” said James Cowens, a victim advocate who explained that the term abuse is more accurate than violence for the people they serve. “Domestic abuse covers physical, verbal, mental, emotional, sexual and financial. … it (abuse) doesn't have the physical, you know, it doesn't have to just be verbal, it can be any of those six. So that's the type of advocating that we do.”

Victim advocates offer a confidential ear and a single place to help get out of a bad situation. For one military spouse, that help was what freed her. Roxanne, whose last name is being withheld at her request, wants other spouses in controlling and abusive situations to know there is help and they are not trapped.

“You are not stuck,” Roxanne said. “As much as in your mind you're going to always feel like, ‘I'm stuck,’ or, ‘there's nothing I can do. If I leave him then I have nothing.’ But you have everything if you have your kids still. You have to have the courage to actually do it (seek help and get out). So, I want people to know that you need to do it as soon as you see that it's going to get bad because it's going to get even worse. So get out while you can before. You can't, you know, it might end up in in death or something. So get out beforehand, have the courage to do it because you will make it and your life is going to be so much better.”

Roxanne’s ex-husband’s behaviors were escalating from anger and verbal abuse. The behavior that made her seek help and leave was the night he pulled a gun on her and their oldest son. She was able to video the incident with her phone and then she reached out to the victim advocate office.

Roxanne explained that the advocates helped her create a safety plan including when and how she would leave. They would call from phones with blocked numbers to ensure privacy. Her spouse couldn’t see who called. The advocates helped her file paperwork to find housing and were with her in court.

“He was court martialed,” Roxanne said, “and the only reason that happened was because I had a video of the incident happening. I knew that he wasn't going to notice me doing it. So, I did it so that I had proof of what was happening to us. That's the only reason he went to prison.”

Roxanne still struggles financially, but said it was worth it.

“Struggling and happy is better than, you know, being sad and scared and having things,” she said.

The Army does help Roxanne financially through a program called Transitional Compensation.

“Transitional compensation is when … there's some type of UCMJ pending on a Soldier, for whatever reason, also accompanied with spousal abuse,” Cowans said. “(It) is the Army's way of compensating that spouse ... If they qualify, and if it's approved at the Fort Sam level, then they will get a monthly stipend for so many years. It ain't much, but something is better than nothing and I think that is a wonderful thing that the Army has.”

That financial safety net is helping Roxanne and her children discover who they are as a family now.

“Every night, I sit down after my kids go to bed and I spend that time … just like watching TV and then just breathing in and telling myself that we're gonna make it, we're gonna do it and just give myself that motivation. Because, I didn’t have motivation or confidence or any self-esteem, nothing with him. And I have all that now.”

For victim advocates like Cowen, it’s seeing his clients come out of their darkness and into a good life that gives him satisfaction and the motivation to keep helping.

“Oh, there is no, there is no greater feeling, knowing that your client tells you, ‘I'm where I want to be, I'm good, I'm safe, I got this,’ That’s when you know you have done your part,” Cowen said. “I still talk to my very first client from 2015. I still check on her, she calls and checks on me. (She has a) wonderful life, wonderful life. When they tell me that they are doing okay and they have made it, that's what I know I’ve done my part.”

The Fort Riley Army Community Service Domestic Abuse Victim Advocates can be reached 24/7 at 785-307-1373.