Former Airmen provide behind-the-scenes look at domestic violence

by Kimberly L. Wright
Air University Public Affairs

10/29/2010 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Anita Washington, a retired master sergeant and retired civilian employee, and Matthew Correia, a former security forces member, discussed aspects of domestic violence from the perspective of victims and security forces personnel during the 42nd Medical Group's annual Family Advocacy Program training day.

Formerly employed at Maxwell's 42nd Medical Group, Ms. Washington was greeted with handshakes and hugs by her former coworkers at the event last week. Lt. Col. James W. Barber, the group's deputy commander, introduced her as "one of us. ... She's really a hero, to be honest."

She, in turn, related that she had attended these training sessions. And she knows what it's like to be a victim of domestic violence. Her ex-husband,

Irilmoskomazzerella Washington, shot her twice in the head in front of her youngest child's school, Prattville Christian Academy, in 2008.

"I survived, and I truly believe I'm here for a reason," she said.
Both Ms. Washington and Mr. Correia advised those in the medical profession to get personal in order to connect with domestic violence victims.

"Don't make them fill out a form, "she said. "If you don't approach it properly, you'll lose them."

Ms. Washington expressed frustration with the system, and because of her experience, changed her degree plan to criminal justice.

"There are lots of things in our society and in our court system that is very discouraging." The system seems "more compassionate to predators than victims. ...
How is it that he can come up to a school, shoot me and he only got 20 years?"

She also encouraged bystanders to take a more active role.

"If you suspect things, say something to somebody," she said.

She said the number of people impacted by domestic violence is staggering.

"You would not believe the number of victims. ... There are victims in here."
Children are also affected by domestic violence, Ms. Washington said. Around the youngest son, she "can't even say (her ex-husband's) name. ... It's like he's a ghost." The oldest son is "full of anger and rage. He knew how it was in the household."

She advised people to look out for each other, and look for signs of violence, including emotional upheaval. There are different types of victims. Some disguise it better, while others "are going to show it."

Mr. Correia discussed encountering a domestic violence scene as a security forces officer. Acting on a neighbor's complaint, he and his partners were three houses back when "you could hear the shouting." When they rang the doorbell, "all of a sudden the shouting stops ... amazing."

He told the servicemember who came to the door that he was driving by and heard some noise. Then he had the servicemember step outside, away from the victim, while the second patrolman talked to the victim. The victim told him, "Everything's fine," and explained away the welt on her face as the result of a fall.

At this point, the first sergeant was called. The military member was informed, "You're not staying here tonight," and was relocated elsewhere on the base.

Mr. Correia encouraged people to inform the local police, the command post and Family Advocacy if they are cognizant of domestic violence incidents involving military members off-base.

"They have an enormous amount of information and an enormous amount of resources," including "the wing commander's ear," he said.

He even knew of instances when they were able to get spouses moved on base to get them away from abusive servicemembers, and the servicemembers' movements were limited on base to work-related pathways.

Beverly Lesyea, of Family Advocacy, lauded the new resources the local community now has in the form of One Place Family Justice Center in downtown Montgomery, a one-stop resource center for abuse victims. It opens today.

"We have resources, services that we haven't had before, all in one place," she said.