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Seeing the signs of domestic abuse

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month  (U.S. Air Force graphic by Naoko Shimoji)

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month (U.S. Air Force graphic by Naoko Shimoji)

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Rarely do perpetrators of domestic abuse let their behavior, or the result of their abuse, be witnessed or seen by anyone else. Unless you directly witness the abuse firsthand, there is no surefire way to tell if someone is being abused. Abusers can be of any gender, age, race, economic status and personality type. Victims should not necessarily be stereotyped as "passive" or as having low self-esteem. So how do you know if someone is being abused? It is critical to know some of the covert signs of domestic violence.

Injuries can be in both obvious and obscure places. Noticeable bruises often keep victims away from the public eye, which is one way an abuser will control the victim. At other times, bruising from domestic violence incidents are concealed with clothing. Either way, be cautious concerning those individuals who are always giving excuses for these injuries or calling in sick and taking extended time away from work on a regular basis. A person with obvious bruising may talk about being clumsy or come up with strange stories in order to explain what happened. Those with hidden bruises may appear to be in pain but will use the excuse that they are sore from working out, falling down, etc. While this is not a definite indicator of domestic violence, look for patterns between injuries and excuses, as well as some of the following signs.

Victims of domestic violence may go through some personality changes. One might notice that a co-worker who used to be very outgoing and engaged in social activities is no longer talking with others and has become shy around people. This is because the victim often "tip-toes" around the abuser to prevent accusations of being unfaithful or disloyal. This behavior then becomes more prominent around others as the abuser has usually "taught" the victim that it is easier to not engage with others and avoid accusations. Secondary to this is the victim's fear of conflict. Since the victim has learned from experience that any kind of conflict in the home has the potential to become violent, they begin to withdraw from all forms of conflict, big or small.

One may notice someone who frequently focuses on the negative, particularly on the things that they do wrong. This is referred to as "self-blame," and may be due to an abuser continually sending the message that whatever the victim does is bad or wrong. This is a form of emotional abuse that, once internalized, can significantly limit the victim's ability to think logically.

Adults who suffer from physical abuse are frequently isolated from the outside world. This gives the abuser control over the victim and limits the possibility of being discovered. Isolation is manifested through making limited use of the telephone; making excuses as to why they cannot go somewhere or cannot attend important events; not being able to make decisions about spending money; having restrictive driving privileges; and not being able to get a job.

Lastly, look for stress-related problems. These can include poor sleep habits, non-specific pain/soreness that is chronic or recurring, stomach problems and frequent headaches.

While one or two of these signs may mean nothing, a combination of them could imply some form of domestic violence is going on. If there is a reasonable suspicion, please contact your first sergeant, commander, chaplain or the Family Advocacy Clinic.