Escaping the cycle: Service members seek freedom from domestic violence

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Aubrey White
  • 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Editor's note: The name of a U.S. Service member in this feature has been withheld for security purposes.

Two U.S. Service members - two victims - in their pursuit of freedom from the cycle of domestic violence escaped their offenders' torture; one lived to tell her story and the other's family carries on her story as a tribute to her life.

The Veteran

Tabitha Grabowski Sazama was a U.S. Army veteran. She was a kind, smart and beautiful person, according to her sister-in-law, Stephanie Muraca-Grabowski, U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training research psychologist.

"Tabitha was a wonderful person who happened to get into a relationship with the wrong person," Muraca-Grabowski recalled. "[Her abuser] first came across as gregarious, fun and outgoing. She was such a good person that whenever he would act inappropriately she would take him back because she wanted to see the good in him, and she wanted to help him."

Being the helping and loving person her family knew her to be, Sazama continued the relationship with her abuser until it escalated to a point when she knew she needed to escape.

"She did everything right," Muraca-Grabowski said. "She went and got a restraining order, she notified the local police and she notified her employer because she actually worked for the same agency as he did."

Sazama's partner was so intent on possessing her; he began to stalk her, forcing her to seek refuge in a shelter. Unfortunately for Sazama, her income was too high and she didn't have children so no shelter accepted her.

Although Sazama took all of the necessary steps to protect herself, Muraca-Grabowski said the police weren't mindful of her circumstance and her employer didn't take her claims seriously; very little was done to intervene.

"She got him out of the house, changed all the locks, but in the end it wasn't enough. One night he broke in while she was sleeping, murdered her, set the house on fire and killed himself," Muraca-Grabowski remembered of that night nearly two years ago to the date.

"A restraining order is just a piece of paper," she continued. "Maybe because of lack of training, awareness and education, there weren't enough steps taken to help her."

According to A.J. Brandt, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, Family Advocacy Program outreach manager, people who leave abusive relationships are at the highest risk for becoming victims of homicide.

"A misconception is that they're finally leaving; they're safe, when actually because domestic violence is about power and control, that's when the risk increases," Brandt. "The bottom line is that all threats really should be taken seriously because a lot of domestics end up in murder-suicide. It's incredibly crucial to put safety measures in place."

While Sazama's life ended tragically, the Grabowski Family shares her story in hopes of helping someone else enduring a similar crisis.

"We wanted to give a face to a victim who was a member of the military family; she served her country, she's one of us," Muraca-Grabowski said. "Because Tabitha was such a good person, if we can take her story and share it with people and someone can be helped from it, I think it would be a very fitting tribute to Tabitha. She would have helped people."

The Anonymous Survivor

Her existence is somewhat of a secret, yet she lives out in the open as if she were like anyone else. Only she, her family and her chain of command know where she came from and why. But in this secret life she leads, this Service member, the anonymous survivor, works to prevent others from enduring the pain she once suffered in her "previous life."

"After I returned from [technical training], he got out of prison and we reconnected," she remembered of her high school sweetheart. "He was really sweet, until we got married."

The Service member's husband soon became jealous of her friends. Finances were tight because he didn't have a job, and the couple started fighting more often. She said it seemed as though the smallest incidents set her husband off.

"One time I didn't say 'excuse me' when I went to grab something from a drawer, so he slammed my hand in the drawer; I have a scar from it," the Service member said. "I went to work that night and there was a cut on my hand and this [technical] sergeant was like, 'what's going on? Is your husband hitting you or something?' and it freaked me out."

She recognized that her coworker was kidding, so she laughed it off, although she was afraid someone would find out the truth.

The abuse continuously became more and more intense, eventually leading to her first visit to the emergency room after a night out with friends.

"When I got home he just started hitting me so much, I tried to block my face," she recalled with tears welling in her eyes. "I remember he hit me so hard I started apologizing just because I wanted him to stop. My eye started bleeding, which I didn't realize until he started apologizing. I saw my face [in the mirror] and I couldn't believe it. I was so embarrassed of how my face looked; I can still see it in photos, but it's a lot better than it was."

While the Service member did report an incident to her supervisor, it wasn't the truth. She said, at the time, she didn't want to get her husband in trouble so she made up a story.

"I told him it was time for him to go back to his family and he knocked the shower door over and hit me in the face," she recalled. "He would want affection, but I wouldn't, so he banged my head against the [bed's headboard]. It was like a cycle; he would do all of these things and then apologize."

According to Brandt, statistically, it takes a victim eight or nine times to leave their abuser because of the Cycle of Violence.

In the Cycle of Violence, tension builds within a relationship, leaving the victim feeling like they're walking on eggshells until the "explosive incident." The explosive incident can consist of physical and emotional violence, and then the abuser becomes ashamed of their behavior during the honeymoon phase. The abuser expresses their guilt and attempts to minimize the abuse, often blaming their partner and promising the abuse will never happen again.

The Service member said she felt conflicted because the person hitting her was the person she wanted to make her feel better. She loved him, so eventually she let him return and the cycle started over.

While she often confided in her parents for support, there was only so much they could do from afar. Eventually the abuse had gotten so bad that the Service member decided it was time to seek additional help, so she called the police.

"He dragged me on the floor by my hair because he was so mad I didn't tell him I was going to take out the recycling," she said. "I told [the police] what happened and the same officer remembered me from the hospital."

The Service member divulged what she had been going through to her unit leaders, and they immediately took action to ensure her safety. She was ordered to stay on base under specific restrictions while Family Advocacy staff worked to put together a safety plan and ban the abuser from the base.

While awaiting an opening in her career field at a different base, the Service member chose to deploy in hopes of calming the situation. On numerous occasions, her abuser attempted to make contact with her during her deployment, but the further away she got from him, the more she questioned why she stayed in the relationship after so much abuse.

After returning from her deployment, the Service member was transferred to JBLE under an endangered Service member transfer program, where only individuals with a "need to know" know who she really is and the violence she escaped.

"I wouldn't have been able to get through the process without my victim advocate and the military," she said. "I feel very fortunate to have had those resources. Most domestic violence relationships end in death, so I should be proud that I left."

The stories of Sazama and the Service member are just two of the more than ten million men and women in the United States who are physically abused by an intimate partner, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

"Domestic violence isn't a couple who get into a fight and it escalates," Muraca-Grabowski said. "It happens to good people, it happens to smart people, it happens to people who have everything to live for."

For more information about FAP services, call 878-0805/0807 for Fort Eustis or 764-2427 for Langley.