By Capt. Jennifer Gerhardt, 188th Wing Public Affairs
/ Published October 22, 2019
The month of October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Domestic violence can take many forms from actions as small as demeaning, verbal comments; controlling personal assets, such as finances; and causing physical harm. There are many resources available to victims of domestic violence, such as calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE, for 24/7 assistance. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Staff Sgt. BreeAnn Sachs)
October is nationally recognized as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Each year, between 960,000 and 3,000,000 cases of domestic abuse are filed. On top of the reported cases, there are many other incidents that go unreported. In the Unites States alone, it is estimated that 1 in 4 women, and 1 in 7 men are victims of domestic abuse every year. There are a variety of resources you can contact to report an incident. The national domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) and their website is www.thehotline.org. There are also resources through the wing’s Director of Psychological Health, Chaplain’s office, or SAPR office. Together, we can be the change. (Marine Corps graphic illustration created by Lance Cpl. Michael Neuenhoff)
Knockout. We’ve seen TV images of random strangers walking up, taking someone by surprise, and punching them in the face. It is considered a violent crime. But what if the same thing is happening behind closed doors?
“Domestic violence” is an inadequate term that fails to capture the horror and brutality people endure behind closed doors. It fails to define the physical, sexual, emotional and psychological situations happening to 1 in 4 women, and 1 in 7 men. Every. Single. Day.
Molly McHenry is the 188th Wing Director of Psychological Health. Her story began in 1990 after she was introduced to a member in her husband’s Army unit. They reconnected 20 years later and began a long-distance relationship that lasted for a few years.
“He was charming and funny, seemed stable, was a great friend to me, and I fell in love,” explained Molly. “I relocated from Texas, and we got married.”
The day after the wedding, the emotional abuse began. A few weeks into the marriage, the physical violence began.
“I was putting dishes in the dishwasher. My 6-foot-4-inch, 325-pound husband backhanded me on top of my head while wearing a giant ring,” said Molly. “I was mortified and embarrassed. I’m an expert in domestic violence and this was happening to me!”
As time went by, her husband continued to call her names and belittle her. The first time Molly left was after he abused her two small elderly dogs. She was gone for six months.
“I was very depressed,” said Molly. “He kept trying to convince me things would be better, that he loved me, and that he was in therapy. He would not leave me alone. I changed my behaviors to keep the peace, so he wouldn’t get angry. I prayed for us. I went back to attempt to salvage the marriage.”
Things were fine for a few days, but he began pushing Molly full-force onto the floor and into cabinets. One time, he pushed Molly backwards into a bathtub and she was significantly injured.
“I suffer chronic pain daily due to the incident,” said Molly. “It makes it tough to forget what happened. He would scratch himself on his chest and arms, take selfies, and pretend to call the police and say I was the abuser.” He even threatened to have Molly’s security clearance taken away.
“I tried to appease him, but it escalated with him cocking a shotgun and aiming it at my head,” said Molly. They went through the same scenario with a loaded pistol later that day.
At Christmastime, he punched Molly three times in the face.
“When he punched me in the face, I knew he didn’t care if people knew what he was doing. I knew this was a lethal situation,” recalled Molly.
Molly’s coworkers saw the bruises on her arms and offered support to her. She talked regularly to the chaplains. Twice, Molly fled the violence and found refuge at her friends’ houses.
“I couldn’t have done it without them,” said Molly.
The second time Molly left, it was for good.
“I just want people to know recovery doesn’t end when the abuse stops,” said Molly. “I am in recovery as a survivor of domestic violence.”
Jasmine Cain, the 188th Wing’s Sexual Assault Response Coordinator stated, “Domestic violence is trauma, and that doesn’t heal right away. It can take years or even decades.”
Even when the person is feeling better, simple things can trigger emotions. Molly said she continues to have some trouble doing normal activities like walking alone, buying groceries, or even being in a certain-sized room unless someone else is with her. “It makes me sad because I found solace in the woods and now I’m afraid to go.”
Symptoms of trauma can include confusion, difficulty concentrating, isolation, anxiety, fear, depression, guilt, shame, self-blame, insomnia, fatigue and even feeling disconnected from others.
There are ways to help break the cycle.
“The most important thing we can do is listen,” said Cain. “Listen without judgement, find out what they need, and what they are ready to do.”
It can be challenging for Air National Guard members to know our coworkers and what they are going through if we only see them on drill weekend. If you suspect something is wrong, ask tough questions, and be willing to hear their answers. Know what resources are available and help your coworker utilize them.
In addition to listening, Cain also stressed the importance of perseverance – don’t give up on a person in need of help.
“It takes an average of seven times before a person leaves a domestic violence situation,” said Cain. “Don’t give up on them because they didn’t leave the first time, or even the second. Keep supporting them. They need it.”
If you need help or know someone who does, there are people you can call:
The National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE), www.thehotline.org
Director of Psychological Health: 479-573-5742
Wing Chaplain: 479-418-9287
Airman and Family Readiness: 479-573-5512