News: Invisible wounds: Domestic violence survivor speaks at base chapel
Story by Kristen Wong
MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII, Kaneohe Bay - Mildred Muhammad’s husband never hit her, but she still bears scars.
Those scars are emotional, stemming from death threats, stalking, and months without knowing whether she would see her children again.
“Eighty percent of victims don’t have the physical scars,” said the former military spouse, who spoke to the Marine Corps Base Hawaii community at the base chapel in recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month on Sept. 26.
A native of Maryland, Muhammad, 52, has shared the story of her marriage, divorce and escape from John Allen Muhammad, the convicted “DC Sniper” who was executed in 2009, with many media outlets. She has founded a nonprofit organization dedicated
to helping other victims of domestic violence, called After The Trauma, Inc.
In addition to the base chapel, she also spoke twice at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
“I’m honored to be here in Honolulu,” Mildred said of her visit.
“(The military community is) like home. I understand the terminology.”
The Military and Family Support Center aboard JBPHH invited
Muhammad to speak at both JBPHH and MCB Hawaii.
“We were all touched by her story,” said Tyra Lamb, family advocacy program education specialist at the Military and Family Support Center aboard Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. “She’s such a low-key kind of person, very down to earth.”
Lamb said she first heard Mildred Muhammad speak at the 2011 Institute on Violence, Abuse and Trauma conference. She said she was impressed by how Muhammad’s story was not only high profile, but was all-inclusive, and could perhaps reach more victims of various domestic violence situations.
“Her story of domestic violence is a perfect example of how anyone could be a victim,” Lamb said. “Even though he didn’t physically abuse her, the emotional scars are still there.”
“Ordinarily I would say it’s an honor and a pleasure to introduce you to this woman,” said Capt. Christopher P. Ramsden, the commanding officer of Commander, Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing 2. “But while I can say it is an honor it’s really not a pleasure and the reason it’s not a pleasure is because domestic violence is not something (that should be happening). I think we’ve all been touched by domestic violence in our past, if not ourselves, certainly our loved ones.”
Mildred Muhammad’s husband, John was an Army sergeant. Married for more than 12 years, Mildred Muhammad and her husband had three children. She described him as a “go-to man” everyone loved. But when he returned from deployment in support of Operation Desert Storm, something changed.
To this day she said she is not sure what happened to John Muhammad while he was in the Middle East, because much of the information was classified. Not only was he diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, he “was a different person” to her, and there weren’t as many resources for PTSD support in the early 1990s as there are now.
Eventually, Mildred Muhammad chose to end their marriage. But while going through the divorce, John Muhammad continued to call her, intrude in her house, and threaten to end her life.
“‘You are my enemy … and as my enemy I’m going to kill you,” were his words, as she recalled.
Her family dismissed John Muhammad’s threats as a “joke,” but one day, Mildred Muhammad’s three children went with their father on a normal weekend visit and did not come home, neither were they in school. She also found her bank accounts had been emptied.
Mildred Muhammad would spend eight months in a women’s shelter hiding from her ex-husband. Eventually, the authorities found John Muhammad, and after a custody hearing, the children were returned to her. In 2002, Mildred Muhammad’s ex-husband was eventually arrested for killing 10 people, and became known as the “DC Sniper.”
“The man I married, the man that fathered my children, could not be capable of such a thing,” Mildred wrote in her 2009 memoir, “Scared Silent.”
“I sat in a hotel room riveted to the television set as images of John flashed across the screen,” she said. “It was surreal. I walked up to the TV, put my hand on the screen — and whispered, ‘What happened to you?’ I had just left a police station where an officer had looked me in the eyes and proclaimed, ‘Ms. Muhammad, we’re going to name
your ex-husband as the sniper.’”
Muhammad’s children are now grown, and she has remarried. She
continues to speak in various venues across the nation. She encourages anyone who has gone through trauma to speak to someone, and seek help if necessary. She is available to answer questions at email@example.com or you can visit http://www.afterthetrauma.org for more information.
Domestic Violence Awareness Month has been observed during the month of October since 1987. New initiatives have been introduced since then to support victims of domestic violence, including the Violence Against Women Act, and the opportunity for domestic violence screening within the Affordable Care Act.
President Barack Obama’s Oct. 2 presidential proclamation encourages those who are seeking help with domestic violence issues can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.
For more information about Domestic Violence Awareness Month, visit http://www.ncadv.org.