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A Marine's struggle against domestic abuse: Maria's Story

By Sgt. Valerie C. Eppler | Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton | October 21, 2014

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One Marine’s personal account

Domestic violence can occur anywhere. It can happen in the military. It can happen to a person of any rank.  Domestic abusers do not seem to discriminate over personality traits. There is no stereotypical victim. It can be anyone who is in a relationship with an abuser.

The following story comes from a Marine who might be described as anything but meek.  Assertive, positive and outgoing are traits that could describe this person well. Yet she was a victim of domestic abuse. She has agreed to share her story to let others know they are not alone and help can be found.

Only the first name Maria is used to protect the victim's identity.

 

MARIA’S  STORY

“We met at the club. I knew him for about six or seven months before we started dating,” said Maria. “We had fun. He was just a really good friend. Always there to listen, sweet-- all the things he wasn’t at the end.”

But just four months into their dating relationship the first signs of aggression and control began to emerge.

Unable to recall the trigger, Maria described the first incident as small. Shoving.

But it was enough for her to take immediate action. She called the military police and filed a report.

“He was like every typical storybook abuser. What they do is exactly what he did. We would get into these spouts, and he would always ‘blackout’ and claims not to remember anything that happened.”

However, just like many other stories people hear about, he too was very apologetic and seemingly remorseful the following day.

Between violent episodes, she said their relationship was not bad.  He would act in non-aggressive ways.  They would have arguments just like any other couple, but his trigger seemed to be when she attempted to end the relationship. 

“As long as I wasn’t trying to leave, he would argue with me, but it wouldn’t really get bad until I said, ‘Hey I can’t do this anymore, you gotta go.’ That’s when it would get bad,” explained Maria.

“It wasn’t just [physical] abuse, there was more. There were emails from other girls, it was a never-ending saga. There was cheating involved and a lot of controlling behavior.”

As the months went on, the abuse continued to escalate. Maria knew she should leave, wanted to leave, but often made the decision to stay because it seemed to be the safer option.

His controlling behavior didn’t lessen while she was pregnant.  Maria described an incident while she was eight months pregnant where, after an argument, he locked her in their bathroom. She had to kick a hole through the door to crawl out of the bathroom.

She said people always told her to “just leave” not understanding that just leaving is not always a viable option.

Fortunately for Maria, she received orders to leave Twentynine Palms, Calif., and go to Camp Lejune, N.C. 

 

SHE LEAVES

Maria was getting ready to go out with friends on her last weekend before she moved to a new duty station in North Carolina. He called her, and after much debate, she agreed to give him a ride home. However, once there, he refused to get out of her car and demanded she take him with her.

“When I told him no, he started punching the back window of my car,” said Maria. “So I just brought him with me. I thought he could just walk home from where I was staying.”

Maria described what happened after she got home.

“I was trying to get the key in the door to unlock it so I could get in the house, but the door wouldn’t unlock. As I was fighting with the lock to get the door open, he came from behind me and snatched the keys out of my hand,” Maria described as she spoke about how it became physical after that.

“Pushing, punching, biting, kicking. You name it, it happened that day.”

The fight then moved to Maria’s car, where her boyfriend was trying to start and take. It was at that point they began fighting over the car keys. He had them in the ignition of her car, and as she struggled to retrieve them, he bit down on her hand and wouldn’t let go.  After intense struggle, she managed escape from the car, and he followed, slamming into the cement. As he got up, his rage came to a boiling point and he punched her.

“That’s when he got me right here,” said Maria as she pointed to a scar on her forehead. “Where I got my nice little memory of him forever.”

Maria said he suddenly stopped and changed his tone. He started repeating, ‘Can I see it, can I see it? Are you ok? I didn’t mean to hit you. I’m so sorry.’

Maria believes that is the point when he realized things had gotten out of his control because he finally allowed her to enter the house.  It wasn’t until the police and paramedics arrived that she emerged from the house again. As the sirens drew near, he ran down the street and was not apprehended until a few days later.

“That following Tuesday I left,” recalled Maria. “If it wasn’t for that move, I believe I would be dead right now.”

But now having gone through those traumatic times, Maria is better equipped to empathize with others who may be in similar situations. What she offers to those who are being victimized is trust. She offers herself as an outlet, an ear to listen.

HELP IS AVAILABLE

A Marine recently spoke with Maria about a situation that Marine was going through.

“She wasn’t ready to leave [her abuser] when she first approached me. Every time I would talk to her she would start making excuses. ‘He’s going to school and if he leaves…’ and so on, said Maria. I waited until she was 100 percent sure she was ready to go. “

That junior Marine still thanks Maria when she sees her. Maria believes she helped to empower that junion Marine and helped her gain the courage to leave when she didn’t feel like she had anyone else to help her. Maria gave her someone she could trust and turn to.

Not all victims are willing or eager to talk about their abusive experiences with their leadership or subordinates.  It is easy for them to feel like nobody understands what they are going through. That is where the family advocacy program can come in.

On Camp Pendleton there are six civilian Victim Advocates located at the Family Advocacy office on Mainside, said Lou Jean Fausner, Family Advocacy Program Manager, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.  The Family Advocacy Program Domestic Violence Victim Advocates are credentialed by the National Advocate Credentialing Program.

They provide 24-hour support to all service members and spouses assigned to Camp Pendleton. The victim advocates have direct responsibilities for providing immediate support to victims by evaluating their needs and educating them on the following information: safe and confidential ways to seek assistance, rights as military service members or spouses, support in obtaining a military and/or civilian restraining order, and referrals and resources, according to Fausner

Victim Advocates will intervene on all alleged incidents of abuse. Victim advocates assess the risk factors and assist the victim by safety planning and assistance with obtaining military and/or civilian restraining orders. They advocate for the expressed interest of the victim to all intervening agencies to include command, law enforcement, medical and legal.

“There a two different options: restricted and unrestricted reports,” said Stacey Grabman, assistant manager at family advocacy. “For restricted, we don’t tell anyone, not even the command but provide the victim with resources and let them know what their options are. We can’t do anything more, like a military protective order, if they don’t want us to contact their command.  They can come to us and have it stay with us.

“We will look at safety.  We would ask if you want the command to be involved, so restricted or unrestricted.  We would have you talk to a counselor and determine major issues in the relationship.  Offer an assessment with the spouse/partner.  Imminent danger will not allow for restricted reporting because we couldn’t keep the victim safe so it would be unrestricted so the command can be notified.  They could take weapons out of a home and get a military protective order. Each victim and situation is different and together we decide what will keep the victim safe.”

“I think the most important part is knowing you have friends and people you can trust,” said Maria.  “A person with the right support will be able to get out. Don’t judge the victim.  If they feel like they are being judged they will shut down.  They don’t want to be told what they did wrong, or what could have been done differently. They just need someone to be there, to listen and to offer them a safe haven when it is needed.”

For more information about family advocacy, please visit http://www.mccscp.com/familyadvocacy
































































































































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