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Raise your hand to stop domestic violence

Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM) evolved from the "Day of Unity" held in October 1981 and conceived by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The intent was to connect advocates across the nation who were working to end violence against women and their children. In October 1987, the first Domestic Violence Awareness Month was observed. Victims in danger of domestic violence are advised to call 911 for help or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Senior Airman Luis Loza Gutierrez)

Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM) evolved from the "Day of Unity" held in October 1981 and conceived by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The intent was to connect advocates across the nation who were working to end violence against women and their children. In October 1987, the first Domestic Violence Awareness Month was observed. Victims in danger of domestic violence are advised to call 911 for help or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Senior Airman Luis Loza Gutierrez)

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and this year's theme is "Raise Your Hand to Stop Domestic Violence."

According to the North Dakota Council on Abused Women's Services and the Coalition against Sexual Assault in North Dakota for the State Health Department, there were 4,671 new victims of domestic violence who received services from crisis intervention centers in the state in 2010. At least 26 percent of the victims were younger than 25, 94 percent of victims were women, and 135 women were pregnant at the time they were assaulted.

Dolly Walls, the Family Advocacy Program Treatment Manager here, holds a master's degree in social work, and has been a licensed independent clinical worker in North Dakota since 1998.

"We want to make people aware of how serious domestic violence is," she said. "All couples have disagreements at one time or another, but it should never be on a continuum where it turns into violence or homicide."

Walls explained that there is a wealth of information and resources available on base, including her office at the 319th Medical Group here, the Airman & Family Readiness Center, Military Family Life Consultants and the base chapel. She named several off-base resources too, including the Community Violence Intervention Center in Grand Forks.

She explained that those who come forward to report domestic violence have a choice between restricted and unrestricted reporting.

"Restricted reporting means that it won't lead to an investigation against the perpetrator, it's just a way for the victim to get the resources they need to go from being a victim to being a survivor," Walls said. "Unrestricted reporting is just the opposite--it still gives victims all the same resources, but it also means that there will be a full investigation, and that law enforcement, the legal office and leadership will have eyes on it."

Walls said that the victim is the only one who can make the decision about whether to file a restricted or unrestricted report.

"Some victims choose not to file an unrestricted report because they don't want to negatively impact the abuser's career--if the abuser is an active-duty member," she said. "But ultimately it's each individual's responsibility to handle his or her own career."

She said that children who live in homes where they are frequently exposed to domestic violence sustain serious damage over time, even if they are not victims of abuse themselves. The State Health Department reported that at least 4,379 children were directly impacted by domestic violence in North Dakota in 2010.

"Just witnessing domestic violence has tremendously negative effects on children, even if they don't see it or hear it," she said. "If they can sense tension in the home, it's enough for them to pick up on, and many times they take it on themselves. It could be enough to continue the cycle into their adulthood, and they may either become victims or perpetrators of domestic violence themselves."

In order to help bring attention to this issue, Walls said there are many exhibits being displayed on the installation through the month of October. At the base fitness center and Exchange are red silhouettes bearing written stories about domestic violence victims.

The fitness center also had a space dedicated to the Clothesline Project to commemorate the lost lives of domestic violence victims through colored and decorated t-shirts during the first week of October.

Finally, on display at the base community activity center is An Empty Place at the Table exhibit which is also meant to raise awareness about domestic and sexual violence victims who were killed at the hands of their assailants.

"The purpose of all of these displays is to raise awareness about these very serious issues, and serve as a reminder to get help if you need it," Walls said. "There is always someone who is able and willing to help."