MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- It begins with love.
You finally meet the person who makes you feel that rush and excitement about your future with them. The person with who you form a deep connection, who you trust more than anyone, but a day comes where you wake up and realize the excitement has become dread and physical and emotional abuse become weapons in a battle for power and control.
Each October, the country bands together to combat partner abuse through Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It is a time where communities mourn the deaths attributed to domestic violence and educate people to prevent further abuse.
"Anybody can be a victim," said Junie Christian the executive director at the Onslow Women’s Center and a native of Columbus, Georgia. "Domestic violence doesn’t have a hue. At its very core it’s about power and control."
Anybody could fall for a threatening partner. It affects the poor and the rich alike. It happens to people from all walks of life, either gender, any sexual orientation and every race.
"It usually starts with the abuser being the ideal partner," said Laura Cate, a community case manager and sexual assault representative with the Onslow Women’s Center. "Most abusers are very charming and charismatic. They don’t show signs of violence, control or possession in the beginning of the relationship. It’s a part of their abusive pattern. It starts off looking like the perfect relationship."
In the beginning, strong affection can mask attempts at control. Some red flags can include the relationship moving in a whirlwind pace, said Cate, a native of Knoxville, Tennessee. Suddenly, your routine changes to revolve around your significant other and you’re only spending time with this person. You spend more time away from your loved ones, and eventually you are isolated in the relationship.
"It’s not a person saying ‘I’m going to isolate you,’" said Cassandra Almond, a clinical supervisor with the Family Advocacy Program aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. "It’s done almost in a sneaky way. So when the victim comes forward, at times the offender can say ‘Oh they’re just making this a bigger deal than it is.’ They can be very savvy to make the victim look like they’re being crazy, and victims will sometimes believe that."
As the relationship becomes more abusive, control can be exerted in many ways, a victim may be moved far away from loved ones and their support network. A victim may have phone and transportation access limited by the aggressor.
Domestic violence isn’t limited to physical abuse. Emotional, financial and sexual abuse play a strong role in abusive relationships.
Emotional abuse can include constant belittling and demeaning, said Almond.
"That can be through name calling, insults, making threats to that person, whether it be threats of violence or threats like "If you ever leave me I will kill myself,’" said Almond, a native of Sanford, Michigan. "Involving the children can sometimes be a form of emotional abuse, saying things like ‘If you ever think of leaving me you’ll never see the kids again."
There is a line between healthy and unhealthy relationships, said Bronwyn Gamon, a clinical supervisor with the Family Advocacy Program. Even a difficult relationship may not be abusive.
"We look at patterns," said Gamon, a native of Newport, Rhode Island. "People are allowed to separate, people are allowed to leave North Carolina and take the children with them unless there is a custody order in place. It’s not necessarily emotional abuse. Is it bad behavior? Perhaps. Is it hard on someone if the children are taken to another state? Perhaps, but it has more to do with the threat. ‘You will never see the children again, talk to the kids again, or they will call somebody else mommy or daddy,’ that pattern of behavior can constitute abuse."
Many couples have disagreements, and many of those can become intense and heated, but there is a difference between couples having arguments and abuse, said Almond. It’s important to seek guidance in maintaining a healthy relationship before abuse can present itself.
When a couple feels like something is wrong, they should seek help, said Lisa Eaffaldano, a clinical supervisor with the Family Advocacy Program.
"It’s not typical for arguments to happen on a frequent basis," said Eaffaldano, a native of Rochester, New York. "If there’s a lot of yelling or throwing things, seek help."
Aboard Camp Lejeune, couples can attend classes to learn about relationships and seek counseling for support while implementing the lessons from marriage enrichment classes.
"When it gets to the point where one person is very afraid or fearful, or when one person feels like they always have to dominate or be in control, then we need to look closer to see if there is domestic abuse going on," said Almond.
The military community holds a lot of risk factors for domestic violence. Many troops are young and inexperienced and far away from their homes and support systems.
"The majority of our cases include young couples who don’t understand the concept of communication and relationships," said Daphne Knight, a clinical supervisor with the family advocacy program.
Without that foundation victims and perpetrators don’t understand how to create a healthy relationship, and may not see their actions as abuse.
"Even after we describe it a lot of people don’t see it as domestic violence," said Knight. "A lot of people don’t see anything outside of the hard core cases as domestic violence but if we can get people in to counseling very early there can be success down the line."
Much like a victim can be anybody, so can an abuser. Men and women are capable of using abuse to gain power and control in a relationship.
Abuse is a learned behavior, said Knight, a native of Norfolk, Virginia.
People may have learned to model their relationships on abusive relationships they grew up around, or they may be influenced by peers.
"Any behavior that is learned can be unlearned and relearned in a healthy way," said Almond.
A relationship that began with love changes with an assault. Whether it’s a shove or a brutal blow, an attack changes the dynamic. Fear enters the framework of the relationship and without involvement it doesn’t stop.
"There has to be some form of intervention to show couples that it is not ok," said Knight. "It’s the behavior we want to change. We’re not looking at our client as a three headed monster or as a horrible person. It’s the behavior that is not conducive within a healthy relationship."
With intervention there is hope, Gamon added.
"It’s not every situation where victims need to leave," said Gamon. "There are a lot of treatments for couples and families that can lead to the family unit staying together, moving on and not having more abusive incidences occur. I see a lot of hope for both the victim and the offender."
However, in some cases, the best course of action does turn out to be separation, said Knight. Resources like the Family Advocacy Program and Onslow Women’s Center help members of the community make those decisions, and offers support throughout the transition away from abuse.
Most of the population is affected by domestic violence. One in four women and one in seven men will be assaulted by a significant other in their lifetime.
"Chances are, if you’re reading this article you know somebody who is affected by it," said Cate. "Victims are not alone in their situation."
"We will be there when you’re ready," Cate added.
For a 24-hour domestic violence crisis hotline for the military community aboard MCB Camp Lejeune and neighboring installations, call 910-376-5675.
For a 24-hour domestic violence crisis hotline in the Onslow County community, call 910-347-4000.
For more information on the Family Advocacy Program, visit www.mccslejeune-newriver.com/fap and call 910-449-9563.
For more information on the Onslow Women’s Center, visit www.onslowwc.org and call 910-238-2941.