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Paying attention to domestic violence may save lives

I’ve worked as an Army journalist and in Army public affairs for more than 15 years. I know that’s apparent since I’m the editor for the Pentagram. What’s unique is I have a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, and in another year, I will be graduating with a master’s degree in the same field. 

About seven or eight years ago, I was conversing with my former public affairs officer and she asked, “Catrina, what is your dream job?” Without any hesitation I told her; my dream job would be to work with survivors of domestic violence or in a homeless shelter with survivors. I’m sure

that wasn’t the answer she was expecting. Although I love working in Army public affairs, helping those who are survivors of domestic violence has been a dream job of mine for more than 20 years. No, I’m not a survivor but I know survivors and some are near and dear to me. I’ve seen the lasting effect domestic violence has on a family. I’ve heard the stories and seen the bruises. I know it’s easy for me to say, “Leave the situation,” but the reality is there are a plethora of reasons why women and men stay. Yes, men are also survivors. I always say they are the survivors who suffer in silence because who is going to believe a woman can physically abuse a man and he willingly allows it?

I know some people believe leaving is worse than staying. I used to wonder how that’s possible. Once I began hearing stories, I finally understood some of the dynamics behind abuse. 

I learned the lesson as a 20-year-old private in the Army. I was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, and I suspected her husband, who was also a senior NCO, was abusing my former noncommissioned officer in charge. I recall pulling her aside and asking if her husband was abusing her after she showed up Monday morning with a busted lip and scratches. She told me she was riding her daughter’s bike and fell off. Since I didn’t believe her, I asked again if she was being abused. I didn’t believe her and would find out she lied. She finally told me the truth after being chaptered from the Army. 

After finally having a transparent conversation with my former NCOIC, I told her it was never my intention to meddle in her personal business. I explained my concern and she finally told me about the abuse she endured. Although I wasn’t shocked, I was a little surprised she didn’t want to report her abusive husband. I understood her not wanting to hinder his career, but in my young mind, the abuser had to be stopped. I wish I could say things were fixed in her marriage. They weren’t and the two finally divorced.

When I hear about domestic violence, I always think about my former NCOIC. I’ve also wondered if I could have done more and pushed the issue. Although I was concerned, I also felt helpless because I wasn’t able to help. I had to always think about the fine line between always showing respect to an NCO and possibly overstepping my bounds with a person who I a good rapport with. 

Some men and women actually believe they can change the abuser’s behavior. I’ve heard the stories about women who believe they deserved this type of treatment. I know the first time I heard that, I was floored because in my mind no one deserves to be abused. I then began to realize that sometimes it’s a cycle of generational abuse. An individual who’s being abused sometimes has a fear of being homeless. 

I remember being assigned a story by my former editor when I worked at the then Fort Bliss Monitor. I thought it would be a simple story about the Fort Bliss Noncommissioned Officer Academy completing a community service project, which included cleaning the playground at the homeless shelter. After meeting the director, I would soon find out this wasn’t just a homeless shelter. The shelter housed women and children who fled homes where the mother and sometimes the children were being abused. While interviewing the director, she began telling me stories about how these families would flee in the middle of the night with nothing but the clothes on their back. She also explained how the mother would practice emergency exit plans with her children. She began telling me story after heartbreaking story and I couldn’t believe some of the abuse these families had endured.

I also began to realize that to some dysfunction is actually normal. To someone like me, dysfunction is just that — dysfunction. There is nothing normal about it. It’s not OK to continue ignoring this type of abuse. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men will experience physical violence by their intimate partner at some point during their lifetimes. More than 43 million women and 38 million men experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime. If those numbers aren’t staggering enough, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men. What that means is during the minute it took me to write those statistics 20 women or men were physically abused, and that’s something I have difficulty reconciling in my mind. 

Over the years, I’ve heard some say, “What happens between a man and a woman is be-tween that man and that woman.” I think that’s wrong. What happens between the two, if there is abuse, should concern us all. It’s time we start paying attention to our family, friends and co-workers. Paying attention could possibly save a life.

Pentagram Editor Catrina Francis can be reached at