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Domestic violence: a survivor’s story

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Taylor Swartz, 22nd Training Squadron Survival Escape Resistance Evasion specialist, poses for a photo at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, November 1, 2018. Swartz has stood as a survivor of domestic violence to bring light and awareness to the hostile environments that have become some families’ normal. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Whitney Laine)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Taylor Swartz, 22nd Training Squadron Survival Escape Resistance Evasion specialist, poses for a photo at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, November 1, 2018. Swartz has stood as a survivor of domestic violence to bring light and awareness to the hostile environments that have become some families’ normal. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Whitney Laine)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Taylor Swartz, 22nd Training Squadron Survival Escape Resistance Evasion specialist, poses with his mother Thea Swartz and younger sister Taylor Swartz for a photo. Throughout adolescence into adulthood, Swartz was subjected to the domestic violence of his father toward his mother, sister and himself. (U.S. Air Force photo/Courtesy Photo)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Taylor Swartz, 22nd Training Squadron Survival Escape Resistance Evasion specialist, poses with his mother Thea Swartz and younger sister Taylor Swartz for a photo. Throughout adolescence into adulthood, Swartz was subjected to the domestic violence of his father toward his mother, sister and himself. (U.S. Air Force photo/Courtesy Photo)

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- Trailing behind his group of friends, feelings of anxiety and fear crowded his adolescent mind with the question of what version of his father awaited him at home. It hadn’t always been unsafe or tense, but his father’s behavior had become a constant uncertainty. The loving provider who had sat at the head of the table was now condemning and destructive.

This is one of the many strong memories Staff Sgt. Taylor Swartz, 22nd Training Squadron Survival Escape Resistance Evasion specialist, recalls from his domestic-violence filled family life in adolescence.

“Growing up, we had the ‘white picket fence’ family,” Swartz reflected. “Along the way, the years brought progressive change toward an unhealthy new normal. My father’s usual glass of milk at family dinner was replaced with beer, raised voices and the air splintered with harsh words.”

There were clear indicators showing something was wrong, but commitment, finances and fear confined us to the toxic environment my father brought home each day, Swartz said.

Domestic violence is the willful intimidation, physical or sexual assault, battery, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. It is prevalent in every community, and affects all people regardless of age, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion or nationality.

“My father had been the protector of our family, but when I was 11 years old, my mother assumed the role to shield my little sister and I from his drunken havoc the best she could,” Swartz said. “My father’s attitude changed on a dime. He would react in anger, calling us derogative words and yelling obscenities. It was an emotional roller coaster being around him when things were not done his way.”

The frequency and severity of domestic violence varies dramatically case-by-case.

“The Continuum of Domestic Violence graphs the most frequent behavior patterns of aggressors,” said Ruth Sunde, 92nd Medical Group Family Advocacy outreach manager. “Studies have shown that unless someone leaves the relationship or the perpetrator seeks help for their behavior, it almost always increases in intensity and frequency.”

Physical violence is often accompanied by emotionally abusive and controlling behavior as part of a larger, systematic pattern of dominance.

“With time, my father’s behavior continued to worsen,” Swartz said. “Shortly after I joined the Air Force, I saw a significant difference in the way my father would treat my mom. He continuously threatened her with violent accusations and financial, physical and emotional control. Her social life had diminished into nonexistence and when blue, yellow bruises surfaced on her arms, sleeping at her parent’s house became a regular occurrence.”

The Continuum of Domestic Violence shows violence almost always begins with emotional abuse, leading to physical abuse, and if allowed to continue, often results in death.

“Domestic violence is an act of aggression out of the desire to have complete control, no matter what the cost,” Sunde stated. “Victims are at the highest risk of being killed when they are preparing to leave the relationship, because the abuser has lost all control at that point.”

Swartz’s mother suffered the ultimate price of domestic violence.

“My family’s unhealthy new normal escalated to a point of leaving a permanent loss in our family,” Swartz said. “During holidays, birthday parties and throughout the rest of my family’s life, there will always be a vacant seat where my mom would have sat.”

Are you in an abusive relationship, or know someone who could be?

“The patterns and trends of an aggressor’s temper can give the victim a false feeling of predictability, resulting in the illusion of the situation remaining manageable,” Sunde said. “It’s of utmost importance for spouses, families, friends and communities to recognize and identify unhealthy behavior and to utilize resources available around them,”

The Family Advocacy Program works to prevent abuse by offering programs to stop domestic abuse before it starts. When abuse does occur, the FAP works to ensure the safety of victims and helps military families overcome the effects of violence while changing destructive behavior patterns. FAP staff members are trained to respond to incidents of abuse and neglect, support victims, and offer prevention and treatment.

“Going forward, domestic violence needs to be addressed,” Swartz said. “We need to stand up for the underdog. There are resources and people here to help victims leave the control of abusers. We need to dive into the trenches to bring light and awareness to the hostile environments that have become some families’ normal.”

For more information or to report a case, contact the Family Advocacy Office at (509) 247-2687.