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'More people are going to die' Military domestic violence survivors call for change

'Meghan doesn’t have a voice any more, but people who have made it out can be a voice for her'
Meghan Santiago
Posted at 3:58 PM, Nov 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-03 19:29:34-04

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (WTVF) — Across the country, people turned porch lights purple following the murder of Meghan Santiago.

Santiago was a pregnant mother, who died following a violent incident at Fort Campbell in Kentucky.

Her baby survived and has been recovering in the NICU at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, with her last act donating her organs to save lives. Currently, Meghan's family in Florida is trying to get custody of her children as they're in foster care.

Domestic Violence Awareness
Military spouses turn porch lights purple following the murder of Meghan Santiago on Fort Campbell.

Authorities arrested her husband, Joseph Santiago, but a source confirmed to NewsChannel 5 there were red flags before the incident that sent Meghan Santigo to the hospital.

This entire episode spurred other military domestic violence survivors to volley for change in how domestic abuse cases are handled.

A former military spouse sat down with NewsChannel 5's to share her story. She asked for anonymity for safety reasons.

"There were multiple instances at another base where people had to call the police for me... and that was on post," she said.

When they changed stations to Fort Campbell, she eventually got help from Montgomery County authorities by calling 911 off post when she was assaulted. Her ex-husband was eventually discharged from the Army.

"I think it’s brushed under the rug because people don’t know how to approach it in a pretty light, it’s a very ugly thing," she said.

Now, she has a message for military leadership.

“I would want them to know that I’m one of the lucky ones because I had family nearby, about an hour away, and it wasn’t close family, but it was close enough that I could flee when I needed to," she said. "I want them to know that that’s not always the case, and that if they don’t do something about it, more people are going to die.”

Military spouses move frequently, which usually means they have to quit their jobs. She said it makes them dependent on the service member in some cases.

“These women are isolated," she said. "They’re not in their element. They don’t know even street names when they first get here."

She's not the only one who feels this way. Haley Thompson is a military spouse and domestic violence survivor.

"I was young, he alienated me from family, I couldn’t get a license, couldn’t do anything," Thompson said.

At first, she went through the chain of command when she became worried about her family's safety.

“The only thing they could tell me to do was 'worry about his mental health,' and him not losing his career, and if I call the police, it’s going to destroy all of that," Thompson said.

One day, she called 911 anyways.

“He had me in a chokehold, he got me to the ground, and my little boy was in the doorway crying,” Thompson said, “My oldest was at the door crying telling him to 'Leave mommy alone.’”

A grand jury indicted the soldier in Montgomery County for domestic assault and child abuse, according to court records. Authorities outside Fort Campbell got her help. She said she felt her ex's chain of command failed her by not reporting the initial incident to the proper channels.

"They need to be taken more seriously before they end up another article in a paper, and then they want to be sorry," Thompson said.

A Fort Campbell spokesperson asked for a list of questions regarding this story. Then, they said questions would be answered in a Facebook Live about domestic violence.

"We’ve given every commander the commander’s response to domestic violence checklist which is a step-to-step guide to safeguard members of the military family," 101st Airborne Commanding General JP McGee said.

People are encouraged to go to the Family Advocacy Program at the hospital on post to report domestic violence. They have an on-call social worker who can be reached at 270-798-8400. In the Clarksville area, there are also independent safe houses that can help people who don’t want to report their concerns through the Army.

"I expect commanders to respond rapidly to all reports of domestic violence that’s involving spouses, intimate partners, and children," McGee said. "Seek guidance from your unit legal adviser every step of the way.”

In Meghan Santiago's case, a family friend had scheduled a day to come to Fort Campbell and help her escape. She died before that could happen.

Now on Facebook, there's a group called Voices for Meghan Santiago. They're advocating for protections for military spouses and domestic violence survivors.

"Meghan doesn’t have a voice anymore, but people who have made it out can be a voice for her and other women who think there’s no light at the end of the tunnel because there is," Thompson said.