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Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Little Whistle Blowing

considering this is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I figured now was a good time for this post. This involves a story I touched on years ago, specifically the last paragraph here: The Right Stuff

Years have passed, now, and other than the hubby, the people involved are no longer in the military. (And thankfully, are no longer married.) So, I think the statute of limitations has passed, and I can elaborate more and discuss it and other things I've seen.

The thing is, the Army? Despite official policies they say, goes easy on spouse abusers. Or at least they do on Fort Hood, where we were at the time.

When we were living there, I had a friend who was a neighbor. For the sake of confidentiality, let's call her "Ann". She was married with two small boys, and lived in the house behind ours. We'd babysit for each other, and visited almost every day. From early on, it was apparent her husband, who we'll call "Steve" had a bad temper. (I was tempted to call him Jerkoff, but felt that might be overkill. Maybe not, though.) Jerkoff, I mean, Steve, was controlling, and had punched a hole in the wall of their house.

Ann was reluctant to do much, because she was scared of him, and she felt she didn't have many options. She didn't have a job, and Steve was her source of a place to live and feed her kids. I counseled her as much as I could, listening to the stories she would tell become more and more concerning. I knew I couldn't do much until she decided she was ready. I was there for her, and did what I could. He had started hitting her, but she would blow it off, and I would calmly talk to her about not deserving to be treated that way while freaking out in my head. Once, she even called me and asked if I would come over to their house because he was scaring her.

I bolted over to their house, and went inside to talk to her. Steve was very angry I was there, but he knew better than to do anything in front of me. I'm a tall, strong woman who doesn't take crap like that from men, and Steve knew it. (Ann was timid and small, maybe 100 lbs. soaking wet. Sidenote-Steve was such a "nice" guy, he'd often tell Ann she was fat. Such a gem of husband.) He became more and more agitated, and Ann decided she was ready to leave. Steve took the keys to the car and hid them so she couldn't. At that point, Ann decided it was enough, and she called the cops. On an Army base, the cops are military, called MP's. (military police) They came and tried to get things sorted out, calling Steve's superiors. Everyone decided it would be best if Steve went with his Sergeant to spend the night and cool off. That is all that was done. The next day, he was back home.

Needless to say, I was not pleased about the lack of action on everyone's part. I don't know what his superiors thought would happen, but things continued to grow worse for Ann. A while later, she came over and asked if she could borrow our extra car to stay at a friend's house for a few days with her boys. She was considering going home to stay with her mom a few states away, but needed a few days to figure things out. We let her, and wished her luck. The next morning, there was a knock at the door, and there was Ann with Steve at her side. Steve informed me she would no longer be needing the car. Ann looked terrified, and I realized coming home was definitely not Ann's idea. She came over later to tell me that Steve had waited until her friend went to work, forced himself into the house, and physically dragged her out and made her come back. I was appalled, and once again tried to talk her into going to the police.

A lot of time passed. One day she came over with her sons and had bruises on her face and arms. She was terrified of what she was doing, but she asked if I would drive her to the police station on base. She didn't want to take her car, because Steve was sleeping on the couch, and would hear the car and wake up. I of course jumped at the chance to help her. The hubby was home, so we left her boys with him, and I drove her to the station.

We both sat in an interview room and joked about how it was the first time either one of us had been in a police station. An officer came in and talked to her, writing down her statement, and they brought in a photographer to take pictures of her. While we were talking, they sent MP's to the house to pick him up and bring him in. I'm sure it was a rude awakening from that nap for Steve. The officer promised Ann that he was going to make sure that she stayed safe. That Steve would not be allowed to set foot near her for 72 hours. I took her home, telling her how proud of her I was, and that the hubby and I would do all we could to help her.

We all went to bed that night feeling better than we had in a long time. The next evening, Ann came over, looking frantic. Steve was home. He had been released from the police station that morning into the custody of his sergeant. His sergeant decided that he didn't want to mess with finding Steve a place to stay and after work, dropped him off back home. The hubby finally lost his cool and decided he was going to do something about it. He put his uniform back on, because he outranked Steve by quite a bit, and was going to make things official and pull rank. He walked over to the house and tried to get Steve to leave, and when he wouldn't, he called the cops. That's when things really hit the fan.

The MP's showed up (including the officer who had promised Ann that he would keep her safe), Steve's sergeant showed up, and his first sergeant. I sat with Ann on a swing in our yard, and we waited to see what would unfold. The officer chewed out Steve, and in a surprising turn of events, Steve's first sergeant chewed out the hubby. Apparently he was sticking his nose where it wasn't wanted, and they told him he was supposed to stay out of it. Finally things calmed down, and Steve was escorted away by his sergeant, to stay at someone else's house until his 72 hours were up. The hubby came home, shaken up and looking defeated, but resolved that he had done the right thing. I was very glad in that moment to be married to a man like that.

I'd love to say that this story has some big happy ending, with Ann getting justice, and Steve served his dues. That's not how things work, though. Steve was allowed to go back home like nothing had happened, and Ann continued to live in fear until she finally got up the courage to go home to her mother. We had to help pay for her to do it, but we felt it was money well spent. Ann went on to live her life, and we talk from time to time. She's with someone new (who I hope is treating her right), and she is going to school to get a degree, so she won't be in a position of depending on a man ever again. And Steve? Steve eventually left the Army and is now married to someone new. I have no idea how things are going for them. I can only hope that the woman doesn't take any crap from him, although I know the chances of that are slim.

I'd like to say that Ann's case was unique, but it's not. We had other neighbors where the husband was beating the crap out his wife. It ended up being a similar story. When she would get up the courage to call the police, all that would happen is they would take him away for the night, tell him he wasn't allowed to go home for 72 hours, and then hand him over to a superior in his unit. The thing is, if the unit decides that they don't want to mess with dealing with it, then they don't. There are no checks and balances here. We were lucky, the hubby's unit is not one like that. When his superiors heard what had happened, they were irate. They would not tolerate that kind of thing in their unit, and let the hubby know that they stood behind what he did 100%. Not all units are that way though, and some are more about watching the backs of their own soldiers, and heaven help the spouses of those soldiers.

I don't even know what my point in posting this is. I did need to get it off my chest though. I'm hoping that maybe if more awareness happens, maybe changes can be made. That the Army won't just be against spousal abuse in policy, but in action. Soldiers that abuse their spouses should be held accountable, and have more of a consequence than a 72 hour cooling off period. Someone needs to be looking out for all those spouses out there, and it can't always be just me or the hubby.


Maggie at Violence UnSilenced said...

"I don't even know what my point in posting this is."

The point in posting this is to share the experience. It's usually the things that feel the most unique and the most awful that keep us silent, and when we share them we find that we were never alone, after all. Thank you for doing that with this today.

I'm glad Ann has a friend like you.

Jim said...

Proud of you. Tears in the eyes proud. Proud of you both!

I ended up writing my own post because of this one.



Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this, and thank your hubby for me for standing up to "Steve" and other guys like him. It can be a hard thing, being the person who stands by, trying to help the victim decide to be a survivor, waiting for the abuser to get his due, but it is the right thing.

You wrote this because more people need to be willing to be the person who steps in and does the right thing. And the only way to do that is to bring the darkness into the light and show it to people.

MacAtac said...

Thank you wife for posting this. It needs to be said that some of us are historians and others of us forget. You brought to life these events for me again. I was trying to remember the events prior to reading your post, but my mind simplified it and did not remember just how brave we had to be under those circumstances, and how when faced with a hard choice, we bonded together and gave this family a glimmer of how they should be treated. In fact your unwillingness to stand by gave us a clear direction as a family that makes me proud and brought tears to my eyes once again.

Anonymous said...

I was pointed to your post by your dad's post - he is a close friend of many years now.

The two things that struck me most in your post were the lines about your husband being relieved that he had done the right thing, and that you had paid for her trip to her mother because it was the right thing to do.

Jim should be proud, and so should both you and your husband. If more people in the world reflected on and then did the right thing, the vast majority of our problems would simply go away. Kudos.

Krystyn said...

Wow! What a disappointment. I can't believe that's how they handled it at all. No body should be beaten and abused and to stand by and let it happen?

Ann was lucky you were there to help her out.