MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho – She walked into the honor guard training area that day, unsure of how her fellow guardsmen would react. The black eye she had was obvious, so she headed straight to her locker to hide the bruising. Others she encountered wouldn’t make eye-contact with her, even when speaking to her, and few asked the difficult question “what happened?” The degree of alienation surprised her.
While the black eye Senior Airman Jennifer Bradshaw had was fake, the reactions others had were not. This was the very lesson being taught during the Family Advocacy Domestic Violence Awareness Black Eye Event Oct. 22.
“My biggest hope was to raise awareness — that it can happen to anybody,” said Connie Powers, Family Advocacy Outreach manager. “I was also hoping people would know what to do if they saw something like that with a fellow Airman.”
Twenty Airmen were selected in secret for this event, picked as randomly as possible to get a broad cross section of the base without overlap. They assembled in the morning to get makeup from the 366th Medical Group moulage team which also creates simulated injuries for base exercises.
“I was nervous, awkwardly nervous — I just didn’t know how people would respond,” said Bradshaw. “They all thought I had got in an argument with my friend, so none of them said anything to me in the beginning.”
Senior Airman Landon Miracle, a fellow honor guardsman with Bradshaw, works in the Mental Health Clinic, and knew about the event. While he tried to avoid Bradshaw to let the scenario unfold on its own, he watched to see what happened.
“Nobody had quite said anything for a while,” explained Miracle. “About an hour later we had driven down to another location and people in the vehicle were saying ‘I’m worried about Airman Bradshaw.’ They said they had asked her if she was okay, and she said she was, so they left her alone.”
With only the shoppette attendant expressing concern out of everyone she met that morning, Bradshaw became discouraged.
“I felt pretty crappy actually,” said Bradshaw. “I knew the bruises were fake, but if this was real, and nobody seems all that worried about it, that’s a problem. But, later on in the day, after [the honor guardsmen] expressed their concern, I thought ‘these guys are kind of cool.’”
According to statistics provided by Powers, 22 percent of Americans report being victims of domestic violence — one in three women and one in seven men. Approximately 60 percent of Americans know a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault, but only 15 percent think it’s a problem among their friends.
Perhaps the most surprising statistic after the black eye event is that 75 percent of Americans say they would step in and help a stranger being abused, when in reality, the majority did not try to help the 20 Airmen who participated in the event.
For the most part, only those who previously knew the participants even asked about the bruises.
“When I went to lunch at the food court, the cashier stared at my face in fear while she was checking me out,” said another participant. “There was a technical sergeant who looked at me and gasped loudly; however, he still did not approach me. I noticed all eyes on me during my time at the Base Exchange. Unfortunately, no one addressed the situation.”
All in all, Powers considered the event to be a success.
“Our black eye awareness event was a success in that people were able to bring awareness to the fact that this does happen,” said Powers. “On the other hand, I was a kind of disappointed that so many people were still afraid to talk about it. That’s really what we need to get past — that stigma of not wanting to talk about intimate partner violence.”
Powers said she hopes this event as well as the other events for Domestic Violence Awareness Month will get people talking about domestic violence prevention and intervention.
“No one deserves to be hit or hurt emotionally, physically or sexually,” said Powers. “Comments such as ‘boys will be boys,’ ‘she asked for it,’ why didn’t she just leave?’ and ‘we don’t talk about that,’ are no longer acceptable.”