Family advocacy trains to promote intervention strategies

  • Published
  • By Paula Spooner
  • 81st Medical Operations Squadron
Every 15 seconds, a woman is assaulted. Every eight minutes, a woman is murdered by her partner. Seventy-six percent of female murder victims had been stalked by the person who killed them. 

October has been nationally recognized as Domestic Violence Awareness Month since 1987. The Keesler Family Advocacy Program conducts annual education and prevention campaigns to promote community awareness, understanding and knowledge of intervention strategies.

This year's campaign was called "Thanks for Asking!"  Endorsed by Keesler Medical Center commander Col. (Dr.) Tom Harrell, the exercise conducted Oct. 29, observed and measured how base bystanders responded and intervened when faced with volunteers who - unbeknownst to them - wore make-up indicative of interpersonal violence injuries. In keeping with the realism of relationship maltreatment dynamics, volunteers were male and female, military and civilians of all ages, ranks and relationship status. The injuries were realistic and plans of the exercise were not made public outside of need-to-know channels. 

Family Advocacy gathered information on just how base Airmen respond when faced one-on-one with an individual showing clear indications of non-accidental injury. These "victims" were likely a co-worker, supervisor, medical provider or a friend.

Prior to the event, a full explanation on the purpose and goals of the campaign, the range of possible responses from bystanders and Keesler reporting options were provided to volunteers. They were asked to monitor the number of bystanders who approached versus actively ignoring them and to further observe the behavioral reactions of the people around them. 

Business-sized information cards were provided to issue to bystanders. If approached by an active bystander during the experiment, the volunteers were instructed to provide a pre-printed card detailing the purpose of the initiative, information on reporting requirements and, most important, thanking the bystander for being a concerned Wingman. 

The "victims" began the make-up process the morning of the event.  Injuries included black eyes, bites, burns, neck contusions, defensive wounds, bilateral bruises, fingertip bruising and mild swelling.  

At the conclusion of the duty day, volunteers met to participate in the event hot wash. This was a critical part of the exercise, as "victims" typically discover that emotions run high. Often, the observations were not what they expected. They may have anticipated a certain coworker to respond who did not, or encountered someone yelling across a crowded room instead of approaching discreetly to inquire about an injury. Others were amazed to discover that they began to think and feel like a true interpersonal violence victim, becoming tearful, ashamed or angry.

Following the exercise, several "victims" provided their personal observations of their encounters with coworkers and others during the day.

"I did not expect to be so emotional," said Capt. Brittany Chase, 81st Aerospace Medicine Squadron, said. "I knew that it would definitely be an experience but the shame and embarrassment that I felt was horrible!  At the end of the day, I was just sad.  Not only for myself but also for the people I encountered who did not have the courage to speak up."

Reflecting on the experience, Chase commented, "I had my own mini-hot wash with my flight about what I went through. Many said the scenario was unrealistic for me because they knew I was strong and would never let the situation get that far out of hand. I told them that there is no 'type' of domestic violence victim and that if I indeed had been beaten, their non-action would have made me feel so small, unloved and invisible.  

"Another comment was that I didn't have a boyfriend or husband so the initial thought of domestic violence was never considered, or that since this was my first time coming to work with an injury, I could have just run into something, gotten into an accident or fallen. We discussed that regardless whether it is the first or fifteenth time; they should have asked me what happened.

"We ended by discussing the proper way to approach a potential domestic violence victim and the mandatory reporting procedures."

Senior Airman Karla Salazar, 81st Diagnostics and Therapeutics Squadron, addressed the experience of being an intimate partner violence "victim" by noting, "It is everyone's business. We are trained to watch for these sorts of things and know how to react to them."

"I think this was a brilliant exercise to raise awareness and test everyone to see if the training we are provided is really working," said Salazar. "I will bring it to the attention of other bases I get assigned to."

Although examining bystander response was a unique opportunity which will undoubtedly lead to improvement in reporting processes, the potential for increasing victim sensitivity and empathy was considerable. 

This campaign was not being conducted to find fault in anyone's response, as much as it was to create an opportunity for insight, awareness and ideas on better ways to intervene when we suspect those among us are being victimized.