Army domestic violence victim advocate explains importance, complexity of ‘breaking the silence’
Domestic Violence Awareness Month is every October, and in 2022 the Army Community Service’s Family Advocacy Program specialists are sharing ways to help empower victims to break the silence about abuse. (Photo Credit: Military OneSource Photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT KNOX, Ky. – Relationship abuse can take many forms, and during this Domestic Violence Awareness Month victim advocates are encouraging those suffering not to do so in silence.

The Army Community Service’s Family Advocacy Program, or FAP, at Fort Knox provides emergency and follow-up support services to victims of domestic abuse. Program specialist Stacey Haynes said it’s crucial for the community to know help is available.

“According to reports, one in four women and one in seven men will experience a serious incident of partner violence in their lifetime,” said Haynes. “I think the statistic for emotional abuse is astronomically higher than that.”

This year’s campaign, “United Against Domestic Abuse,” is focused on the theme of “Breaking the Silence.” Haynes explained how important it is to understand why it can be so difficult for victims to speak up about what they’re experiencing.

“Abuse starts subtly and escalates over time,” said Haynes. “Abusive relationships are often great in the beginning, so victims don’t always necessarily realize or identify abuse when it starts happening.”

Because domestic abuse frequently initiates with mental and emotional tactics such as gaslighting and belittling, Haynes said the ability of victims to understand what’s happening becomes compromised.

“It’s really about understanding physiologically what’s going on when you’re in a constant state of stress,” said Haynes. “You can’t be clearheaded. It becomes difficult to navigate situations and make decisions.”

In addition to creating an environment where a victim feels constantly confused, abusers will also regularly use methods such threats, financial control, public humiliation, physical harm and much more to keep their victims silenced, Haynes said. This is what makes it so complicated not just for victims to seek help, but for those outside the situation to understand the complexity of leaving.

“The theme we see most often is not understanding why people stay,” said Haynes. “The question victims always hear is, ‘Why don’t you just leave?’ The biggest problem with that question is that it’s putting responsibility on the victim that they don’t deserve.”

Being told simply to “just leave” is another reason many victims are fearful of seeking help, according to Haynes. She said she understands how overwhelming that can feel and assured anyone considering reaching out to her office that this isn’t what advocates will do.

“When they come here, they don’t necessarily have to take action,” said Haynes. “They can just come in and talk. Nobody is going to force them to leave, go to a shelter or get a protection order.

“What we really do is tell them their choices and help them figure out what’s best for their situation.”

Although FAP is always an available resource to the Fort Knox community, Haynes said it may not always be the first place a victim turns. A Soldier experiencing domestic abuse could initially open up within their unit, and Haynes said it’s critical for leaders to be prepared to help.

“It takes a lot to build up the courage to say something,” said Haynes. “Really listen to them and be thoughtful about your reaction. If anything is said that inflicts shame or shows disbelief, that victim is gone and won’t come forward again.”

The most important message that needs to be heard by victims and those who have witnessed or been told about abuse is that they don’t have to be afraid to speak up, according to Haynes. Whether they call ACS, the National Domestic Violence Abuse Hotline, or just want to talk about what’s happening, free advice is always accessible.

“We’re here to help get their power back,” said Haynes. “We want them to regain some control so they can take things little by little. We’re not here to do it for them; we’re here to empower them.”

Haynes said empowering victims is what the 2022 campaign theme is truly about:  When victims are ready, FAP advocates will be their resource guide, honest with them about their safety, and will ensure they won’t be alone in the process.

“We want them to know they have choices,” said Haynes. “I don’t think they realize they do when they’re in the middle of the storm, but there is help, and there are options.”

As difficult as it can be for a victim to take that first step and say something, Haynes said the victim may not realize how much it can also help other victims.

“When you’re brave enough to say, ‘This is happening to me and it’s not okay,’ others will feel empowered,” said Haynes. “By coming forward, it gives others the courage to break their silence, too.”

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Editor’s note: For more information on support and resources, go to www.militaryonesource.mil/united-against.