Defense Department Consolidates, Redefines Abuse Policies
By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 18, 2007 The Defense Department has consolidated 14 previous domestic abuse policies into one document that more clearly defines the roles and training of those who deal with the problem.
The new publication, “Domestic Abuse Involving DoD Military and Certain Affiliated Personnel,” was introduced by senior officials this month to coincide with the department’s observance of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
“Providing a safe and wholesome environment for our families is a key quality-of-life objective. Publication of this instruction is a significant milestone for the department of Defense and represents a major step forward in our efforts to prevent domestic abuse,” said Leslye A. Arsht, deputy undersecretary of defense for military community and family policy. “Domestic violence destroys families, scars children and harms military readiness. … We will continue to work to ensure that every home is a safe home.”
The publication more clearly defines roles and training requirements for those the department calls “key responders,” said Mike Hoskins, a special assistant in the Office of the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy. Key responders include local commanders, law enforcement officials, legal representatives, victim advocates, health care providers, family advocacy staff and chaplains.
The publication is the result of an effort that started more than six years ago with a congressionally mandated task force formed to help the department stop domestic violence within its ranks. After three years, the panel made nearly 200 recommendations to the department on how to improve its response to reports of domestic violence.
Most of the recommendations are addressed in the new publication, Hoskins said, and include:
-- The need for a comprehensive, coordinated community response to reports of abuse;
-- The requirement to seek agreements with civilian counterparts to increase information sharing regarding abuse incidents;
-- Training needed for key responders; and
-- The need for the Defense Department to conduct sound criminal investigations of domestic abuse reported to the system.
Since the task force made its recommendations, there have been several initiatives and additional funding addressing domestic violence within the department, Hoskins said. Also, initiatives were launched in cooperation with other federal agencies. For example, the Defense and Justice departments teamed to train victim advocates and law enforcement personnel, Hoskins said.
In 1998, the reported rate of spouse abuse in the Defense Department was about 20 per every 1,000 families. In 2006 that dropped by about half.
But, Hoskins said, “The true scope of the problem is difficult to understand.” He said reporting has historically been inconsistent between agencies investigating incidents. Officials say domestic violence is one of the most underreported crimes in the country.
“We shouldn’t necessarily take comfort in reduced rates of domestic violence. It is highly likely that is a good-news story, in that prevention, education and awareness efforts are working, but we need to be also cognizant of the possibility that we are making it more difficult for victims to come forward and receive assistance. So we have to interpret with caution those numbers,” Hoskins said.
Hoskins said that reported victims of domestic violence are all ages, sexes and military ranks, but the majority are women. A common misconception, he said, is that abuse can be caused by stress or deployments.
“I think some of the most common misperceptions are that it is caused by stress, anger, alcohol, deployment, and although abusers may certainly experience those, they do not cause domestic abuse. Individuals choose whether or not they are going to be abusive,” Hoskins said. “In fact, if everyone in our system who experienced stress, anger, deployment in fact were abusive, we would have numbers that would be so high that we wouldn’t know what to do with them.”
Hoskins said sometimes victims are afraid to come forward because of the fear of damaging their spouse’s military career. He said a report of abuse doesn’t necessarily mean an end to a career or the family, but that the report should be handled as any other reported crime.
“The Defense Department has made it very clear that victims will be treated with dignity and respect and that offenders will be held appropriately accountable,” Hoskins said.
“The goals of all the programs in the system haven’t changed. Those are to help people live healthy lifestyles and, in those cases where families want to stay together, the focus is on helping them stay together,” he said. “What we encourage commanders to do is to respond to reports of domestic abuse as they would the credible reports of any other crime, and to initiate … a law enforcement investigation to determine if a crime occurred,” he said.