DoD Task Force Looks at Domestic Violence
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 21, 2000 In the military, "family" ranks right up there with "duty, honor, country." Strong families mean ready forces. Troubled families mean trouble.
Just as the military fought discrimination and substance abuse in its ranks, DoD is now turning its guns on domestic violence. A congressionally mandated task force is studying the problem. The 24 appointed members -- half military and half civilian -- held their first meeting to launch the project in June.
"It's a big effort, but we've got three years to try to make a dent in this," said Lt. Gen. Jack W. Klimp, the Marine Corps' deputy commandant for manpower and reserve affairs.
Klimp and Deborah D. Tucker, executive director of the National Training Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, Austin, Texas, are the panel's co-chairs. They recently talked about the panel's mission during an interview with American Forces Information Service.
"Domestic violence is contrary to our core values and it's something that we ought not tolerate," said Klimp who dealt with domestic violence cases when commanding various units. As a commander, he said, he had to identify that an incident had occurred, verify its intensity, ensure appropriate action was taken and follow the case to ensure the perpetrator was not guilty of other offenses.
"Every once in a while, in spite of the quality of the people we have, we'd have somebody that would get into trouble and they'd come to me for potential disciplinary action," Klimp said. "Almost invariably when I asked the company commander or the first sergeant, 'What kind of a Marine is this?' They'd say, "He's a good Marine, Sir. We ought to take it easy on him.'
"My response to that was, 'You're a Marine 24 hours a day. You're not just a Marine in the field. You're expected to conduct yourself like a Marine all the time.' Domestic violence is not Marine-like. It's not soldier-like. It's not sailor-like. It's not airman-like. We need to ensure that every Marine, soldier, sailor and airman in the Department of Defense understands that this is not part of being in the United States military."
Domestic violence is a national problem, not just a military problem, Klimp stressed. "Because the military is a reflection of the nation as a whole, Congress asked us to take a look at how we're dealing with the issue within the Department of Defense," he said.
Task force officials will visit bases and nearby civilian communities throughout the military. "There's a great deal of exchange now that goes on between the bases and the communities," Klimp said. "The communities sometimes have resources and assets that the bases can call upon to assist with a program. We're going to try to determine just what is available and what kind of exchanges can go back and forth."
Klimp said the military's family advocacy program, the largest employer-based program in the country, is "already a very, very good program." The task force will look at ways DoD can improve its efforts to combat domestic violence and protect victims.
DoD officials want to prevent domestic violence "from ever happening at all," he said. "I think the civilian communities and the military can work together to solve a national problem."
Tucker will share her 25-years experience fighting domestic violence in the civilian community with the other task force members. She said both sides stand to learn from each other and make recommendations to benefit both military personnel and civilians.
Civilian communities generally have approached domestic violence from a victim advocacy standpoint, Tucker said, while the military has spent much more of its resources and focus on the offender. She said she believes both can benefit by combining their knowledge.
Tucker seeks to encourage greater collaboration between family support agencies and law enforcement officials within the military and civilian communities. She said communication and cooperation are essential to understanding the full domestic violence picture.
"Many times there are instances that happen off-base that the military leadership may not be aware of," she said. "Civilian officials, as well, may come into contact with an individual and not know that he already is under orders on- base related to domestic violence."
The task force will look at the causes of domestic violence and whether the problems are essentially the same for military and civilian families. But, no matter what the cause, Tucker said, the most important thing is determining the best way to stop it.
"Some people believe domestic violence is caused by individuals with such a strong desire to control everyone in the family that they'll use violence to achieve that control," she said. "Other people believe that violence is connected somehow to stress and that people under stress may react in various ways, including violence."
Responsible adults know how to control themselves, Tucker said. People who define themselves around how their spouse or children behave are "totally missing the boat."
"Their responsibility as a partner or as a parent is to encourage people to develop and to find their own way of being a part of the community," she said.
Many who commit domestic violence grew up in homes where they were abused, she added. Many victims stay in violent marriages because they believe the first violent incident was an aberration due to stress or too much to drink. They convince themselves it will never happen again.
But it does.
"When it happens again and again, the victim stays because they begin to believe the things that batterers typically say. 'I wouldn't have hit you if you hadn't done this... You're stupid. You're fat. Nobody else would want you.'
"Victims tell us that the hardest things to overcome are not the beatings; it's the things that are said. Those are the hardest things to reject and to say, 'No. I'm smart. I'm wonderful."
Military and civilians alike need to teach their children that there is no excuse for anyone to hit them, Tucker stressed. "No one deserves to be abused no matter what they've done, no matter what they've said."
The bottom line, she said, is that anyone involved in domestic violence needs to get help. "Don't hope that it will get better. Our experience is that it will only get worse if someone doesn't step in and help."
According to Klimp and Tucker, DoD wants to ensure that help is there when needed, and to prevent domestic violence from ever happening again. As the general said, domestic violence violates the military's core values.