Ashley Luttman has a story tell. It’s brutal and heart-breaking. It also shows there is hope. Hope that those who have experienced domestic violence can recover and succeed in life. Hope that there are places for folks like Luttman to go to and share their experiences and pain.
Luttman, a 20-year-old airman at Yokota Air Base who is PCSing to a new duty station this month, knows many others are suffering from the effects of physical and verbal abuse. And she’s speaking up, so they will, too. She also did the legwork to establish a domestic violence support group on Yokota that plans to start meeting in January.
Stripes Japan recently sat down with Lutman to discuss her past, future and willingness to share her story.
STRIPES: So, you’re 18 years old, in love and have paperwork all filled out to get married. But then things turned, didn’t they?
LUTTMAN: I was 18 years old and thought I had met the love of my life. He was military so we had that in common.
I knew that he knew the challenges I was about to face, since we met before I joined the military. There were warning signs verbally, but I kind of ignored them almost because I thought I could get him the help he needed. We talked about marriage for a while and decided to start the process once I graduated from tech school. So, I headed to Georgia where he was stationed at the time and the day we had filled out the papers to get married was when he got physical. We were in the car driving to another city to get away for Thanksgiving and I said something he didn’t like and he slapped me, grabbed my hair and hit my head against the car door. Once we got to our destination, things got better, he apologized for what he had done. However, the day before I left, we got into another fight because I was not giving him enough attention. This then turned into him carrying me and my things out of the car and him attempting to hit me with the car. I then begged him to take me to the airport so I could go home. After 3 hours of begging, he took me to the airport. I pretended to sleep the whole way there to avoid another fight. Once we got to the airport I said goodbye to him and knew that was the last time I would see him in person.
You did the right thing and ended the relationship. But then you were in for a surprise, weren’t you?
Once I got home to visit my family, after I’d seen him, I turned my phone off for a few days to avoid all the calls and text messages I knew I was going to get from him.
My family did not know what was going on, so I pretended things were all good when they were not. When I turned my phone on after those few days, I get a text message followed with a picture of the marriage certificate saying, “look what I did, looks like you are stuck with me”.
But you decided to give the marriage a chance. Why?
I decided to try to give him another chance because I was in love with him and knew there was an amazing human being behind that anger and abuse.
But it didn’t work, did it?
I told him in order for him to come with me to Japan, he needed to get the help he needed for his anger. He did not acknowledge he had a problem and said he was perfectly fine. Since I was new to my clinic at the time, I had a lot of learning and in processing to do, so I did not have a lot of time to message him.
He did not like that and would message me things like, “you are the worst wife ever,” “you should go kill yourself because you are a waste of space” and “why did I even marry you”. After this went on for a few months, I decided to not talk to him and told him I wanted a divorce. He would not take no for an answer, and wanted to talk to my leadership and attempted to contact my clinic multiple times.
It was quite an ordeal you went through. So, who did you lean on for support?
When I first got here, I lacked a lot of social interaction and communication. My parents were really strict growing up so I wasn’t allowed to really hang out with friends. I went to school and home and that was that. I spent a lot of time by myself. I wasn’t close with my parents when I had first arrived in Japan; I talked to them maybe once a month. I really leaned on my first supervisor because she was really patient with me and knew I was going through something but was unsure what. She asked me multiple times if I was married and I said no the first two or three times because I did not really want to come to terms that I was legally married. Eventually I told her the truth.
This ordeal made you a stronger person, didn’t?
This situation made me the strongest I have ever been. It has led me to reach out to other resources and form a support group since one was not officially formed [where I am now]. I wanted to start a support group because I know I am not the only one who has, or is, going through domestic violence. Like my former chief used to tell me, “do not suffer in silence,” and I truly believe that. I want people to know they have a safe space to talk about the things that they went through and to hopefully get closure.
You’re leaving soon, but you already have plans for your next duty station, don’t you?
I am leaving in about two weeks to head to Alaska, which will be my new duty station. My plans and goals while I am there, are to form or get involved with the support group. If there isn’t one already, I want to start it myself. I also want to get involved with the domestic violence shelters near the base and see what I can do there.
There’s always hope isn’t there?
I believe everything happens for a reason, whether we see it in the moment or not. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel. It is okay to say no and to get out of that relationship and get the help you need, and I am extremely proud for people who do that. My advice to anyone who is going through domestic violence currently, is to please contact family advocacy or the domestic violence hotline.