Breaking the silence of domestic violence

  • Published
  • By Mr. James Harper
  • 301st Fighter Wing’s Violence Prevention Integrator

Domestic violence is something that can live within the walls of a family’s home and never see the light of day, until something happens to expose what hides within. Mr. James Harper, the 301st Fighter Wing’s Violence Prevention Integrator, sheds light on domestic violence, signs of it, and what can be done about it.


Q: What is domestic violence?

A: The definition of “domestic violence” has evolved significantly in the past few decades. It was previously defined very narrowly as severe physical or sexual violence against a spouse (usually a wife). Now, the definition is much broader and encompasses physical, sexual, and psychological or emotional abuse against any intimate partner of any gender identity. Because of the broadening of the definition, Domestic Violence is now more commonly referred to as Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). This definition also allows the violence to be defined as violence that occurs outside of the home or outside a traditional marital relationship and even extends to include teen dating violence.


Q: What are causes of this kind of violence?

A: It is difficult to define any specific, direct cause or causes on IPV. In the world of violence prevention, the current trend is to identify a variety of risk factors that are linked to a greater likelihood of IPV occurring. Though it is important to note that not everyone who is identified as “at risk” becomes involved in violence.

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control, which defines IPV as a public health concern due to its adverse physical and psychological consequence, there is “a combination of individual, relational, community, and societal factors [that] contribute to the risk of becoming a perpetrator of IPV.”

The risk factors for IPV are commonly divided into the following 4 categories: Individual, Relationship, Community, and Societal. Some examples of each are listed below, but many other factors exist in each category:

Individual Risk Factors: unemployment, impulsiveness, isolation, a history of violence (as either the perpetrator or the victim), and depression.

Relationship Risk Factors: jealousy, marital instability (multiple divorces and/or separations), and unhealthy family-of-origin relationships/interactions.

Community Risk Factors: poverty, low community social capital (institutions and norms within the community), and high alcohol outlet density.

Societal Risk Factors: traditional gender norms and gender inequality, income inequality, and cultural norms that support or even glamourize aggression toward others.


Q: What are signs of domestic violence?

A: There are many signs of IPV, some are evident to an outside observer, such as unexplained bruising or injuries, especially if injuries occur often. Other signs of IPV can be more subtle especially where psychological abuse or controlling behaviors are concerned. Psychological abuse is the use of verbal and non-verbal communication with the intent to harm another person mentally or emotionally and/or to exert control over another person. Another form of IPV is stalking, which is a pattern of repeated, unwanted attention and contact by a partner that causes fear or concern for one’s own safety or the safety of someone close to the victim, including the victim’s children. Stalking can be in-person or technology-assisted.

Below are some other signs that a person may be experiencing IPV. As a Wingman, you might have cause for concern if a person exhibits any of these behaviors:

  • Frequently backing out of plans, especially at the last-minute.
  • Inability to make even small decisions without consulting their partner.
  • Does not carry cash or credit cards or have the ability to spend even small amounts of money.
  • Significant changes in appearance and body-language.
  • Sudden lowering of self-esteem and increasing timidity.


Q: What should I do if I notice these signs?

A: A Wingman’s response to another Airman in trouble should always be the same: take action! That action can come in many forms. If a Wingman sees an actual occurrence of IPV, they should intervene using the training they received in Interpersonal Violence Prevention Training, formerly known as Green Dot. Wingman intervention (previously called bystander intervention) as a reaction to imminent violence or violence in progress is accomplished using the 3 D’s: Direct, Delegate, or Distract. Remember, we all have barriers to intervening, and each person must intervene using whichever one of the 3 D’s feels best for them and ensures their own personal safety.

  • Direct: Address the situation personally by approaching any of the people involved.
  • Delegate: Get someone else to intervene based on the environment where the violence is currently occurring, examples include: a supervisor, friends, bartender or bouncer, store manager, 911, or nearby security.
  • Distract: Create a distraction that will diffuse or interrupt the situation, examples include: ask one of the people involved to borrow their phone, for a ride, or start a conversation.

If you notice some of the warning signs or risk factors are present, but there is no obvious, imminent danger, then a Wingman has a number of options to help. One of the most important things a Wingman can do is talk to the person who they suspect is experiencing IPV, ask questions about how the person is doing, and provide supportive responses without being judgmental. The person being abused may not be ready or able to leave the relationship, so a Wingman must be supportive and helpful without trying to force someone to make a decision they may not be ready to make. There are many other things someone can do to help, including the below:

  • Help the person being abused create a safety plan. This may include having a “go bag” with important/essential items and keeping the bag in a secure location or even giving it to a Wingman. It could mean creating a “safe” word. This is a code word that the person being abused can use when in danger without an abuser knowing. Safety plans can also include safe locations to meet and telephone numbers to call.
  • Encourage a victim of IPV to talk to someone who is an expert in IPV and who knows best how to help. Any of the numbers listed in the next section are ideal for that purpose.
  • A Wingman can encourage the person being abused to attempt to engage in social connection outside of the abusive relationship. It is important that the victim spend time with other supportive friends and family.


Q: If someone is in a domestic violence situation, who can they turn to?

A: If a person is at imminent risk of violence, they should call 911 or local security forces. When the situation does not present an immediate risk of violence, there are many non-emergency resources available to individuals suffering from IPV. There are also resources for those who are concerned that they may perpetrate IPV. These resources exist within the military community and “off-base” in our civilian communities. Members can always speak to trusted leaders within their chain of command, like their First Sergeant or Commander. They can reach out to one of the many base helping agencies, such as the Director of Psychological Health, the Airman and Family Readiness Center, the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, or the Navy Fleet and Family Services Center. The most important place for an individual experiencing IPV to turn is to a person, organization, or institution they trust. There are also many local and national hotlines a person can call to get help and resources, including:

  • Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233
  • Military Crisis Line: 800-273-8255
  • Military One Source: 1-800-342-9647
  • DoD Safe Helpline (Intimate Partner Sexual Violence): 1-877-995-5247


Q: Any other words of advice or info you would like to share?

A: COVID-19 has created an environment where risk factors for many types of interpersonal violence are increasingly likely. While this article focuses primarily on IPV, the risk for many other adverse social outcomes is also higher. Suicidal ideation, child and elder abuse, and increased use/abuse of substances are all being reported at higher levels under our current physical distancing circumstances. However, the current social distancing and its associated feelings of isolation have also led people to come up with many creative and adaptive ways to maintain connection with one another. Not only are members using social interactivity platforms such as Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, and others with greater skill and frequency, they are also finding new ways to connect with others, and often going out of their way to let others know that they are important. I have seen and heard many stories of individuals reaching out to their fellow humans to let them know they are not alone and are valued. Whether it’s signing from rooftops and balconies to greet New York medical professionals and first responders as they start their days, or spotting teddy bears and rainbows in neighborhood yards and windows, the current unprecedented environment of social distancing has shown that we have a true capacity to show concern for and share love to our fellow humans! In this way, social isolation has, paradoxically, made us work harder to feel more connected to one another. Hopefully, once the world returns to “normal,” we will hold onto our re-invigorated enthusiasm for going out of our way to make others feel connected and loved!


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