Twice a month, Coast Guard All Hands will feature “From the Homefront,” a column for Coast Guard spouses by Coast Guard spouse Shelley Kimball. Shelley has been married to Capt. Joe Kimball, chief of the office of requirements and analysis at Coast Guard headquarters, for 13 years. She serves as an advisor for the Military Family Advisory Network and a research analyst for Blue Star Families.
Written by Shelley Kimball
The reminders have been impossible to ignore. In the wake of high-profile stories about domestic violence, a grass-roots Twitter campaign emerged. Thousands of people told their own stories of responding to abuse by using the hashtags #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft.
More recently, the commissioner of the NFL met with military leaders to learn ways to better support victims in abusive situations.
And October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
All of this makes it especially important that Coast Guard families know that there is help if they find themselves in similar crises. In fact, relationship issues are one of the primary reasons Coast Guard members and their partners seek help through CG Support, according to John Reibling, the Family Advocacy program manager.
The most important thing to know is that help is available, Reibling said. The fastest way to get help in a crisis is to call 911, call Coast Guard Support at 1-855-CG SUPRT (1-855-247-8778) or to find help through the Office of Work-Life Family Advocacy Program.
The Family Advocacy Program is intended to assist not only family members such as spouses, children, parents and siblings, but also to intimate partners.
So what is domestic violence? The Department of Justice defines it as:
• Physical abuse: hitting, slapping, shoving, pinching, biting, etc. It also includes forcing alcohol or drug use on another.
• Sexual abuse: forcing or coercing sexual contact of behavior or treating someone in a sexually demeaning way.
• Emotional abuse: undermining one’s self-esteem or self-worth, which may include excessive criticism or damaging relationships with other family members.
• Economic abuse: controlling financial resources in a way that forces an individual to become dependent, or blocking access to money, school or place of employment.
• Psychological abuse: threatening physical harm either to oneself or a partner, intimidation, destroying property, hurting pets, isolation.
Help is available, even if someone may be afraid to tell Coast Guard authorities for fear of repercussions. Don’t let that fear be an obstacle.
For Coast Guard family members, there are two ways to report abuse (or maltreatment as it is called in the Family Advocacy policy). One is a restricted report, and the other is an unrestricted report. A restricted report is used when an adult victim of abuse or maltreatment asks for help and requests that there is no notification to the Coast Guard member’s command or Coast Guard Investigative Services. These requests for help would be made to a Coast Guard Victim Advocate, a Family Advocacy Specialist or a military healthcare provider.
An unrestricted report is used when a victim requests help through the Coast Guard command and requires reporting. The Coast Guard recommends unrestricted reporting because it can provide protective measures, such as military protection orders, for active duty members.
When adults choose either the restricted reporting or the unrestricted reporting, ,Reibling said the choice usually hinges on three factors.
“Typically, 1) they have not made up their mind about leaving, 2) they want help but do not want to get their partner in trouble, or 3) do not want to jeopardize partner’s career,” he said.
Some victims may not report abuse at all.
“Victims have an enormous capacity to assume they are responsible so they often wind up thinking thoughts like ‘If only I did better by…,’ which keeps them trapped,” Reibling said. “Guilt is often a psychological hedge against the yuckier feeling of powerlessness.”
Some other reasons victims may not report abuse is that they wish it didn’t exist and they don’t want to face it.
“In many respects, the abuse is like alcoholism in that no one in the family wants to acknowledge it,” Reibling said. “And a person’s hopes and dreams are hard to let go of.”
Victims, however, are not the only ones responsible for seeking help.
For offenders, Reibling said, one of the best ways to get help and mitigate the situation is to self-refer, which is to ask for help for a problem before being required to do so by command.
“While there is no ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card for abusers in the Coast Guard, self-referral is always the best kind of referral.” Reibling said. “That is, if the person self-refers the likelihood of being in serious trouble greatly diminishes. Commanding officers recognize that it takes courage to admit to having this problem and, historically, have not pursued disciplinary action in situations that have not, to date, involved serious injuries. No guarantees. But if offenders are asking this question chances are they recognize that if there’s another incident they could lose everything including their partner, career, and possibly their freedom. Bottom line: it’s worth the risk to self-refer before things get worse.”
Coast Guard Family Advocacy Program policy: Here is a copy of the recently revised policy. It was updated to make it easier for victims to seek help or for families to find ways to avoid a crisis through early intervention.
Coast Guard Support: In the menus on the far left, choose Relationships, then Emotional or Physical Abuse. Or call 1-855-CG SUPRT (1-855-247-8778).
Department of Justice: This site has great information about the issue, and it includes an interactive map for finding local resources for support.
The Chaplain Corps provides confidential assistance. It can also be reached by phone at 1-855-USCG-CHC (1-855-872-4242).
The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Commandant or of the U.S. Coast Guard.