Fort Leonard Wood’s Office of the Staff Judge Advocate hosted a symposium on domestic violence Nov. 19, livestreamed from Nutter Field House.
According to Gary Chura, chief of client services and one of the organizers of the event, understanding and addressing intimate partner violence has been a huge focus within the military for a decade.
“Many view it as a crisis in our ranks and the Army is responding with training and resources,” he said.
Chura said the goal of the symposium was to build competency on the impacts of domestic violence and the resources available to victims as well as how the Army can best address the problem.
Maj. Jonathan Mathis, chief of justice, worked alongside Chura to organize the event. He said the idea to host the symposium came about when they identified a segment of the Fort Leonard Wood community they felt does not have a voice — families of service members.
“The military really presents some unique challenges for victims of domestic violence, and a big part of that is encapsulated in the word used to describe them: ‘dependent,’” Mathis said. “Those individuals truly are dependent upon their service member: for their social circle, their finances, their health care — every part of their life is dependent upon their service member.”
Mathis called military dependents potentially “perfect victims” of domestic violence.
“They don’t have anyone else to reach out to,” he said. “That individual — that abuser — is the only person their entire life depends upon, and so they are more easily isolated and controlled.”
Mathis said it’s especially important to recognize and discuss domestic violence when families are quarantined at home due to the pandemic.
“It is already difficult for victims to cry out for help, but now more so than ever when they are trapped at home with their abuser,” he said. “For victims so often without a voice, announcing that we are here to help, and we hear you, is a powerful message that hopefully will resonate not just with victims, but with our Army and local community.”
To assist the symposium’s audience with understanding the problem, Mathis and Chura reached out to experts on domestic violence. Keynote speaker Dr. Eric Hickey, a forensic psychologist, presented information on the effects of domestic violence for victims, and Catherine Vannier, Missouri Office of Prosecution Services special victims resource prosecutor, spoke on some of the signs and symptoms of coercive control. In addition, two panels provided opportunities for on- and off-post organizations to discuss the representation and care of victims.
Mathis identified two factors in stopping domestic violence.
“The first is leaving the abuser,” he said. “The second is receiving legal assistance. That second factor informs the first; it helps that victim so much.”
Fort Leonard Wood’s Legal Assistance Office began in-court representation of victims in 2018, Mathis said.
“That’s where our program really took a step forward,” he said. “Our goal is to make the Legal Assistance Office the one-stop shop for victims.”
Mathis said the way forward involves continuing to improve the coordination efforts between the various organizations providing assistance to victims seeking help — 1,500 people seek emergency services for domestic violence in the state of Missouri every day.
“Those are only the people who have the wherewithal and the resources to actually reach out and cry for help,” he said. “Who knows how many other unanswered calls or unmade calls there are?”
Staff Sgt. George Thompson, a drill sergeant assigned to Company G, 3rd Battalion, 10th Infantry Regiment, attended the symposium as part of his training requirements to be a victim advocate for his unit.
“A big takeaway I had was learning how to handle a situation, to have a specific line of questions to assess or help understand where or from what state of mind a trainee is coming from,” he said. “One phrase that stood out to me was ‘giving power back to the victim.’”
Thompson said he believes the Army is moving in the right direction regarding domestic violence response.
“It is going to be a long journey for the military as a whole to figure this out, but we’re doing a better job than we were (a decade ago),” he said.