Saturday, October 25, 2008

Domestic Violence and the Swedish Bride

The Domestic Violence Awareness Project (DVAP) supports the rights of all women and girls to live in peace and dignity. Violence and all other forms of oppression against all communities of women and their children must be eliminated. To change belief systems and practices that support violence against all women, the DVAP recognizes and promotes the participation of the entire community in building social intolerance towards domestic violence.

The purpose of the DVAP is to support and promote the national, tribal, state and local advocacy networks in their ongoing public education efforts through public awareness campaigns, strategies, materials, resources, capacity-building and technical assistance. These strategies include campaigns that address the victimization of women throughout their lifespan. The voices, leadership and expertise of women who have been battered are acknowledged as critical and necessary components of these campaigns. ~ Statement of Purpose, Domestic Violence Awareness Project, 2000

This month is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. My own awareness of domestic violence sort of crept upon me slowly.

For example, when I was an army officer stationed in (then West) Germany and Adjutant of the Rogue Battalion, one of my duties was assisting the dependents of the soldiers assigned to the battalion. One day a woman—a Swedish national who recently married a sergeant—came into my office to complain that, although she had been married for close to two months, she still did not have a U.S. Army dependent’s ID card. She wanted to shop in the PX and could not without the card.

She said that her husband told her that the army was delaying the issue of the card because she was from Sweden. That sounded absurd to me and I told her I would do what I could to speed up the process. I assigned my sergeant the job of getting the needed information from her and submitting through my office an inquiry into the delay.

Before we received the response to our inquiry, the local German police contacted us and told us that the woman was in the local hospital and asked to see my sergeant. He and I went to the hospital and found that the woman had been badly beaten: both of her eyes were blackened; her face was swollen; her wrist had been broken, etc. She told us that when she had told her husband that she had been to our office, he had beaten her, but she had not told the German police because she did not “want to get him in trouble with the Polizei.”

I was alarmed by her appearance and even more shocked that she had not identified her assailant to the police. Of course, way back then I was not familiar with the dynamics of domestic violence.

Jumping forward to the conclusion of this horrible situation, after I informed her husband’s company commander of the incident, Courts Martial charges for assault were instituted against her husband, to which, after we received the results of our inquiry into the status of her military ID card, charges of polygamy were added. Her husband had never submitted his new wife’s application for an ID card because he already had a wife with an ID card back in the United States. My memories of the results of the Courts Martial are that the sergeant was convicted, sentenced to prison, and issued a dishonorable discharge.

That was my introduction to the horrors of domestic violence. A few years later, after I left the army active duty and became a social worker, I learned that the situation I had encountered in Germany was mild compared to other incidents of domestic violence with which I dealt. I shall share some of them next week.


  1. Unfortunately, the only really unusual part of the story is that the Bad Guy was caught and punished.

  2. Thomas: Yes, it is. Of course, I’ve primarily come in contact with domestic violence situations in my professional roles, so in all of them the prep had been indentified—although prosecution hasn’t always taken place.

    I many jurisdictions arrests and prosecution doesn’t take place unless the victim signs a complaint against the perpetrator. In the military, the victim doesn’t have to do that.

    Also, in Kentucky, an officer of the law can place charges against the preperator even if the victim refuses to sign a complaint. I believe that that’s great.

    In domestic violence case, the victims often refuse to press charges and even when they do they often later recant—until the next time they are battered and often they again withdraw their complaints.

  3. But we are making progress. Just 200 years ago the rule in England was that a man could not beat his wife with a branch thicker than his thumb ( hence the rule of thumb). We have come a long way from that.

  4. For some reason that I do not understand a lot of women refuse to report their husbands. I didn't...I reported the bastard and took him to court. Divorced him, too, and he only hit me once, but that was one too many.

    I think that to a lot of women, any relationship is better than none at all. My fear was not so much for myself but my two daughters. Because if I'd let him get away with assaulting me, they'd have been next and I wasn't having that.

  5. Its really sad, but the reality is that until you've lived there, you can't really understand it. And quite often you just don't know its happening until circumstances like this arise.

  6. Excellent post, Saintly Nick