KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Domestic violence can wreak havoc on a family, and the military community is not immune to the problem.

For families on Okinawa needing help and refuge, there is the Joint Services Family Shelter.

Operating since 1982, the shelter is an unidentified home in a military family housing area on the island, manager Emeline Hastings said. The home is for family members of all servicemembers; to be placed there, the individual or family must be referred by their service’s family advocacy office.

Space at the shelter is rarely a problem, Hastings said. If it ever reaches its 16-person capacity, an alternate facility is available.

The shelter is open to women, men and even “unaccompanied minors,” Hastings said.

“Say the parents are both offenders,” she said. “The shelter’s policy is unaccompanied minors 12 years old and older can stay there.”

Hastings said staff members or volunteers are at the shelter 24 hours a day, year-round. The shelter currently has eight staff members and 13 volunteers.

So far this year, Hastings said, the facility has hosted about 200 “bed days” — each person that stays one night counts as one bed day — a small decrease from last year.

All military branches support the shelter, and funding is based on use by each service’s members.

Seeking help in the military community can be more effective than doing so in the States, Hastings said, as the military community is more concentrated and help is delivered faster.

“A lot of times in the States they get incidents when they are really bad,” outreach representative Savannah Lohn said. “But here we get them before they escalate.”

Hastings said it’s rare for the shelter to see a violent case, but abuse doesn’t always entail violence.

“When people think about abuse, they think it’s only physical,” she said. “But it isn’t. It can also be mental or verbal. And abuse doesn’t discriminate — it doesn’t care who you are or what your rank is.”

Lohn said those staying at the shelter don’t simply sit around.

“There is always treatment going on … they never stay at the shelter with nothing happening,” she said. “They’re either seeing counselors or they will go back to the States if that’s what everyone thinks is best.”

Hastings agreed that there is “a plan in motion all the time.”

In the past, Hastings said, family members have been afraid to seek help. But she said that’s less often the case now as commands have taken abuse seriously and won’t tolerate it.

To seek help, Hastings said, victims can contact their service’s family advocacy program or their command, call the police or a help line, or talk to a chaplain.

“There’s a lot of help out there,” she said. “Family members need to know they’re protected.”

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