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When Violence Happens

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 11, 2000 – What happens when Capt. Jones beats his wife and neighbors call the police? Or when Sgt. Smith's wife clobbers him with a baseball bat?

Domestic violence happens in military families of all ranks and ages. In most cases, husbands abuse wives. But the reverse is also true. DoD officials here outlined what happens when military officials learn about domestic violence on and off base.

On base, military police investigate and immediately notify Family Advocacy Program officials and the service member's commander. If the abuser is a civilian, the investigation is turned over to civilian law enforcers and base personnel cooperate with the local legal authorities.

Off base, local police may or may not report the incident to base officials. DoD officials are currently working to develop memoranda of understanding with civilian law enforcement authorities to establish such reporting procedures.

When military authorities learn of domestic violence involving a military family, Family Advocacy Program officials assign a caseworker to assess the victim's safety and develop a safety plan. This may include an application for a military protective order, alternative living arrangements and ways to safeguard any children in the family. Throughout the process, victims' advocates ensure that the victim's medical, mental health and protection needs are being met.

Family Advocacy Program officials also assess the alleged abuser and identify treatment needs and suitability for treatment.

The case is then presented to a multidisciplinary case review committee with representatives from the Family Advocacy Program, law enforcement, staff judge advocate, medical staff and chaplain. The committee decides whether the evidence indicates abuse occurred. The committee recommends what treatment the victim needs and how the alleged abuser should be treated.

Based on the committee's recommendations, the commander decides what action to take regarding the abuser, including administrative sanctions or disciplinary actions. The commander determines whether to order the individual into treatment, or to seek to impose disciplinary procedures under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The commander may also seek to obtain the discharge of the service member from the military.

Victims often hesitate to report abuse because they fear the impact it will have on their spouse's career. A recent DoD study found that service members reported for abuse are 23 percent more likely to be separated from the service than nonabusers and somewhat more likely to have other than honorable discharges. The majority who remain in the military are more likely to be promoted more slowly than nonabusers.

Criminal conviction of even a misdemeanor involving domestic violence can end a service member's military career. The 1996 Lautenberg Amendment to the Gun Control Act of 1968 makes it unlawful for anyone who has been convicted of a misdemeanor of domestic violence to possess firearms. The law applies to law enforcement officers and military personnel.

DoD officials say most of the spouse abuse in the military is reported early, before it becomes chronic and severe, and the chances of successful treatment are good. As a result, abusers don't necessarily have their careers impaired. In fact, some abusers self-report to get help.

Visit the DoD "Domestic Violence: DoD's Next Frontline" web site at www.defenselink.mil/specials/domesticviolence/.

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