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Support offered to those

entangled in domestic abuse


Staff writer

Knowing someone who is being hit, or berated or controlled in their own home isn’t just destructive for the victim. It can hurt observers, too, said Jamarcus Hackney, who stopped by a domestic violence awareness event Tuesday afternoon at Patuxent River Naval Air Station.

Hackney, a Navy first class petty officer stationed here, said he’s seen family members, friends and people in his community over the years who have suffered through domestic violence. “It made you feel helpless — what you couldn’t do,” he said.

Even if it was a small step, he said Tuesday, he wanted to make a difference. “To support the cause, to give awareness and support,” he said. Hackney signed up, along with about 20 others, to walk a mile on the base and draw attention to what has long been a serious concern, both in the military and in civilian homes across the country.

Spouse abuse reported to the Department of Defense Family Advocacy Program over a 10-year period, starting in 2001, has ranged as low as 15,260 reports in 2007 to as high as 19,277 reports in 2011, the most recent data readily available. The increase could be due to several factors, from heightened awareness, an increased number of people willing to step forward, or more spouses abusing their partners. The data looks at physical, sexual and emotional abuse, as well as neglect of a spouse.

Across the Navy last year, 2,600 domestic abuse reports were made and at least 1,300 were found to be substantiated, said public affairs officer Connie Hempel. Hempel said she could not release figures specifically for Pax River.

The issue is just as serious outside Pax River’s gates. A total of 18,209 reports were made in Maryland in 2011, the most recent data available from the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence. In St. Mary’s that year, 542 reports were made, as well as 331 in Calvert and 562 in Charles. There wasn’t much fluctuation during a five-year period starting in 2007.

Forty-nine deaths were caused in Maryland by domestic violence from July 2011 to June 2012, according to the network, with 34 victim homicides, 12 offender suicides and three offenders killed by police. No deaths were reported in Charles and Calvert. One victim was murdered in St. Mary’s.

And in February this year, Kimberly Dawn Carter, 38, was beaten to death by her estranged husband outside her Great Mills home. She was there at about 3 a.m., with her boyfriend when 46-year-old James Mitchell Carter came inside. She left through a window, but Carter followed her and beat her in the head and shoulders with a chunk of concrete. He pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison. He had nothing to say when a judge offered him the opportunity to speak in court earlier this month.

“Leaving is the most dangerous time,” said Michaele Cohen, executive director of Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence. Abusers begin to feel like they’re losing control and might say, “‘If you leave, I’ll find you. And if I find you, I’ll kill you,’” Cohen said.

But, moving on can be done safely with coordinated support from agencies like Walden in St. Mary’s, the Crisis Intervention Center in Calvert County and The Center for Abused Persons in Charles County. Cohen said that while agencies like hers can’t save every victim, they improve chances of living healthier and safer by coordinating with police and emergency responders. Groups also work to conduct “lethality assessments” to help a victim determine the threat level in their relationship.

It’s been Cohen’s mission to train law enforcement, faith leaders, counselors, and family members and friends to recognize the signs of abuse and know where to point victims for help, even as the Internet is making it easier for an abuser to track a victim’s location and their communications.

“What we say is, ‘It can happen to anybody,’” she said, from the wealthy, to military wives, same-sex couples, teens, members of secluded religious communities or immigrants. Abusers are often men, but they can be women. Victims may be ashamed to say they’ve been abused. They might not want to get the police involved because the abuser is the household’s sole provider. They might not want others involved in their personal concerns. Or people might not believe their stories because, to many, the abuser “is Mr. Wonderful,” Cohen said.

“This was the person they loved. Maybe the father of their children,” Cohen said. They might have financial obligations. He may have apologized for the abuse, treated her well for months or even years, before the cycle started again. Victims might be isolated from family and friends. They might have nowhere else to go.

“A lot of people are not ready to reach out,” Cohen said. “I think for family and friends ... they need to be aware, supportive, listen, believe, not judge and they need to encourage people to get help from a domestic violence program.”

By hosting events like Walk a Peaceful Mile on Tuesday, Hempel said, the goal is to offer resources and let people know support is available. The year’s theme was “Silence Hides Violence.” The Fleet and Family Support Center also offers anger management, financial management, parenting, individual and group counseling and couples communication classes to help strengthen families and individuals in other areas, said Cathy Beck, a Walk a Peaceful Mile organizer from the Fleet and Family Support Center at Pax River.

“We want to make the statement that there’s nowhere for domestic violence in our communities, our workplace or our homes,” Beck said. Similar events have been held for about five years, and they are open to anyone with base access.

“It’s really about protecting the vulnerable, and giving them a sense of how they are going to move forward,” said Capt. Ben Shevchuk, Pax River commanding officer. “They need to have a sense that they have someplace they can go. We have a protective role, but also a shaping, training and equipping role.”

Some victims don’t recognize yelling, pushing and shoving as abuse, Beck said. But it is, along with black eyes, insults, intimidation, controlling a partner’s finances, their travels and their activities. “We often have a victim say he didn’t really hit me that hard, or he just shoved me a couple times,” she said.

To learn more

For information on domestic violence awareness and to discuss methods for confidential reporting of abuse at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, call the Fleet and Family Support Center at 301-342-4911. To contact the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, call 301-429-3601 or visit