DoD Committed to Preventing Family Violence
American Forces Press Service
Washington, Mar. 8, 1999 When defense officials talk about DoD’s Family Advocacy Program, three words get used often -- strong, effective, committed.
The message they send is clear: Domestic violence is a problem DoD takes very seriously. It is not only an assault on the family, it is an assault on military values and good order and discipline.
In a Jan. 17 segment on domestic violence in the military, the CBS news program “60 Minutes” reported that the military has a significantly higher rate of domestic violence than the civilian population. The program also criticized the ways military domestic violence cases are processed and prosecuted.
However, a senior defense official said the “60 Minutes” segment painted an incomplete portrait that did not show the diversity and depth of the Family Advocacy Program, the dedication of case workers and the commitment of commanders to combating domestic violence.
“We’ve put $100 million into the program and have more than 2,000 people at military installations worldwide dedicated just for this program,” said Gail H. McGinn, acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for personnel support, families and education. “We have an early identification thrust to the program that helps us identify problems early on and intervene. And we have a mandatory reporting requirement, not only for child abuse, which the civilian sector tends to have, but for spouse abuse as well.”
Perhaps most important, DoD’s program requires immediate notification of unit commanders when cases are reported. This adds a layer of accountability not present in civilian programs.
McGinn said the “60 Minutes” segment also did not address the differences between how DoD and civilian agencies report domestic violence cases, making comparisons difficult.
“We’re not using similar methodologies, we’re not looking at the same population, and we’re not using similar definitions,” she said.
For example, DoD divides domestic abuse into three categories: mild, moderate and severe. The official said that three-fourths of the incidents reported in the military fall into the category of “mild,” or what DoD classifies as emotional abuse not involving physical harm. Only three percent of reported cases involve what is classified as “severe” physical abuse. Civilian agencies usually classify an incident as abuse only if it involves physical harm.
“And for child abuse, where we do have similar reporting categories, our rates of abuse are about half those of the civilian population,” McGinn added.
DoD intentionally categorizes emotional abuse as family violence because it helps activate the Family Advocacy Program early on – before emotional abuse turns physical.
DoD’s program emphasizes prevention and appropriate response when abuse does occur. For example, Family Advocacy Programs at all installations offer workshops on coping with stress, conflict resolution and communication, as well as personal and group counseling. And when a case is identified, the official said a “multi-disciplinary team” of specialists on the installation make recommendations to commanders on how best to proceed, whether it be counseling or stronger interventions such as restraint or military justice.
Command involvement is a key component.
“Because we have a mandatory reporting requirement to commanders, they are involved in incidents from day one,” McGinn said. “So it’s important they know what’s available to them in terms of the Family Advocacy Program and what options they have under the military justice system.”
The Department will be taking action to make the program even stronger. For example, DoD will try to standardize agreements between military installations and their surrounding communities which spell out more clearly how to cooperate on domestic violence cases. And more effort will be focused on reaching military spouses and educating them about the resources available to them through the Family Advocacy Program.
While seeking ways to improve the program, DoD remains proud of its record on preventing domestic violence and committed to the effective programs already in place.
“Family violence is counter to the values of the military, the values of military leadership and what we stand for,” McGinn said. “One case is too many cases, but we do have a strong program. It’s there to help people. It’s there to help commanders, and it’s there to help mission readiness.”