Criminal Justice News

Monday, October 28, 2013

I'm actually all right - but Thanks For Asking

by Air Force Tech Sgt. Vernon Cunningham
JBER Public Affairs

10/25/2013 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- The young Soldier didn't show up for physical training on time, as she did every other day. She missed formation. When she did show up for work, with a bruised face, she was quiet and withdrawn. Many of her fellow Soldiers looked - even stared - at her face. Time passed, and the day went on.

People went about their duties, still staring. Still wondering. Finally, one person walked up to the battered Soldier and had the courage to ask: "What's that on your face?"

The Soldier smiled and handed out a card, saying, "Thanks for asking!"

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

The Army and Air Force Family Advocacy offices on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson initiated a joint-service social experiment Oct. 22 and Oct. 23 to raise awareness of domestic violence and collect data to be used to combat it.

The experiment was called 'Thanks for Asking.'

Seventy Air Force and Army volunteers signed up to receive moulage simulating various domestic violence injuries.

The 'victims' went around common areas of the base and went to work without the unit being aware the injuries were simulated.

"Typically, we have information booths about domestic violence awareness and are there, live, giving out information," said Diann Richardson, Air Force JBER Family Advocacy Outreach manager. "Well, people walk past our live event with the domestic violence information and say 'thanks' or walk the other way. So, as a team we asked if this was really effective ... just standing here at the booths. The answer was no."

The Family Advocacy offices decided on a creative, realistic approach with the domestic violence issue.

They enlisted the aid of the Pacific Air Forces Air Force Medical Modeling and Simulation Training team and base leadership.

The 'Thanks for Asking' volunteers carried numerous cards explaining the campaign and highlighting domestic violence statistics and support options.

Family Advocacy told volunteers to miss formation, be late to work, adjust their normal behaviors and give other indicators to create concern, and to show up at work with the 'injuries' given to them by the moulage team.

If anyone approached them and asked if they were OK or what happened, then the 'victim' would hand out a 'Thanks for Asking' card and share some of the statistics and options for dealing with domestic violence and sexual assault.

Pfc. Talia Pitts, an Army volunteer, said she showed up late to work with visible bruising and her sergeants immediately reacted.

"First, I didn't go to PT this morning and it was unusual," Pitts said. "They were banging on my door and they called me. When I got to work, my [noncommissioned officers] found out and told our first sergeant. Our first sergeant called the military police. They did everything right. They were all very concerned."

JBER Military Police dispatch and hospital was aware of the campaign and likelihood of calls reacting to the volunteer's injuries.

Despite her unit's obvious concerns, Pitts found it to be a different story when she ventured outside her unit.

"It's amazing how everybody would look at me," Pitts said. "They were very concerned, but didn't say anything. They would just look at me. Some people asked my sergeants, but they didn't ask me."

Airman 1st Class Nicholas Key, an Air Force volunteer, had a personal reaction to participating and also experienced a contrast in reactions from those who saw him.
"Most of the people said something, mostly in a joking manner," Key said. "For a little while, it almost felt like I had this nasty transfiguration on my face, and I almost wanted to keep people from seeing it and bringing it up. It was almost embarrassing. However, it was nice when people saw it and recognized it as a problem. But when people saw it and didn't say anything, it was a bit hurtful."

Key said one person who approached him to see if he was OK, expressed, after learning of the experiment, that he was very hesitant to ask because he wasn't sure if Key would get angry about it and they would end up in a fight.

Richardson said the biggest apparent trend with this effort was that a greater number of people seemed more uncomfortable approaching women with an injury than with a male.

Key was waiting at the dining facility with his obvious 'injury' when he witnessed this pattern for himself.

"There was another Airman in line who was also in the experiment and had what I thought was a more obvious wound which had a bit of a cut in it," Key said.

"I thought for sure she was going to be asked if she was OK or if everything was all right."
Key said the female Airman waited in line among a bunch of Airmen. Since her food was served first, she cut in front of a portion of the line - yet no one said anything.

"It was kind of hard to deal with," Key said. "I almost took it personally to see that nobody said anything."

Officers and enlisted volunteers took part in the effort.

Air Force Col. Reba Harris, an Air Force volunteer and squadron commander, was moulaged with a very noticeable black eye and was intentionally late to a meeting. A variety of people stopped her on the way to ask if she was OK.

"Upon arriving to my meeting, everyone stood up for me ... rendering proper respects," Harris said. "Every jaw in the room dropped. I gave no eye contact, which is not my usual behavior. I put them at ease and asked them to sit down."

Harris said one NCO asked to talk to her in private in the ladies' room and asked if she was OK. She wanted to know if the commander needed any help.

Although not everyone who saw the various simulated volunteers' injuries asked a question, lots of people were prepared to assist or refer the 'victims' to medical help.
At the end of the day, the volunteers spoke about their experiences and gave
feedback on how people reacted to them.

Richardson said the realistic scenario was a pretty consistent test for men and women alike.

She said people had some pretty strong feelings when people let them down. Others told stories of extreme concern and immediate reaction.

The Family Advocacy offices conducted the campaign to answer a single question.
"Where are we?" Richardson asked. "Having experiments such as this, you want to gain information about where we are.

"We have assumptions and predictions, but to actually have someone walk into a shop with 50 people, with 50 cards in your hand and come back with 25 cards ... well, its basic math. Half the people asked, and half, not so much."

She said the experiment does not reveal why people didn't ask questions or intervene, so this was just for a baseline.

Richardson said the next step is to find out why people didn't ask.

"If you suspect it, you need to report it," Richardson said. "If someone walks into your shop with a black eye, or a mark on the back of their neck, or scrape marks ... it is important you say, 'Hey, what's wrong? What happened?'"

Harris agreed with the need to step in and ask questions, no matter who it is.

"I would tell them that it doesn't matter the rank of the person, or the position of the person," Harris said. "Especially if you know them and had seen them in the last few days and the bruises did not exist.

"Please walk up to anyone in that situation, male or female, and ask the question. 'Hi, how are you doing? What happened?' That is what I would say to anyone from a junior member to a four-star general."

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