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DoD Targets Domestic Violence

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 30, 1996 – A Navy petty officer died violently this summer in her quarters at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. The 28-year-old mother of two toddlers was murdered by her estranged husband, who then killed himself.

About 135 family advocacy specialists recently looked at service efforts to prevent domestic violence, particularly spousal abuse. A DoD conference in Alexandria, Va., July 23-24, focused on recommending ways to prevent abuse, to intervene when it occurs, to treat victims and to deal with abusers. A second conference later in the year will use the recommendations in further developing DoD's policy for combating domestic violence.

Out of a population of 855,940 married couples, DoD officials said, about 16,200 reports of spousal abuse were confirmed in 1995. About 60 percent of the active duty force is married, according to Defense Manpower Data Center figures. Of the total, about 49,700 couples are dual active duty service members; the other 806,200 service members -- 757,200 active duty men and 49,000 active duty women -- are married to civilians.

"The vast majority of abusers are male, and the vast majority of victims are female," said Carolyn Becraft, deputy assistant defense secretary of defense for family support. "But in DoD, for at least three years, about 30 percent of our cases involve wives abusing their husbands.

The prevalence rate of spousal abuse in the military has increased steadily since 1990, according to DoD statistics. Throughout DoD in 1990, there were 14.5 confirmed reports of abuse per 1,000 spouses. The DoD rate for 1995 was 19 confirmed reports per 1,000 spouses. Officials attribute the higher rate to greater public and command awareness and concern, an increase in the number of self reports by victims and more funding for family advocacy programs.

A comparison of 1995 domestic violence rates among the services shows the Army and Marine Corps with the highest rate of 24 confirmed reports of abuse per 1,000 spouses. The Navy had a rate of 15 confirmed reports per 1,000, and the Air Force had a rate of 14 confirmed reports per 1,000.

While DoD officials track spousal abuse rates in the military, national statistics are not available specifically on spousal abuse. The Department of Justice Bureau of Statistics tracks violent crimes against men and women. One category is violent crimes perpetrated by intimates, which includes spouses or ex-spouses, boyfriends or girlfriends, or ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends.

Nationally, 29 percent of all lone-offender violence against women age 12 or older was perpetrated by a husband, ex-husband, boyfriend or ex-boyfriend. About 1.4 in 1,000 men experience violence by an intimate each year. About 9 in 1,000 women experience violence at the hands of an intimate each year.

A 1994 DoD study of 585 victims indicated most abuse is identified early, officials said. Victims are seeking help; 60 percent of the victims reported abuse on their own.

The study also revealed victims tend to be young mothers; 57 percent were under age 26 and 18 percent, ages 16-20. About 78 percent have children. Victims tend to be employed; 18 percent active duty service members and 42 percent in civilian jobs.

Victims said they feared consequences from reporting abuse, according to the study. About 74 percent feared what the military would do to their battering spouse. About 64 percent feared the military would punish their spouse. About 56 percent feared their spouse would be forced to leave the military. Nearly half of the victims on active duty feared the same consequences for themselves, officials said. Only 30 percent feared their spouse would hurt them again because of the report.

About 90 percent of the abusers were enlisted males, 69 percent in pay grades E4-E6, DoD officials reported. Abusers tend to be young and newly married. About 49 percent were under age 26. About 57 percent were in the military less than seven years and 32 percent, less than four years. About 57 percent were married for less than three years.

DoD families face challenges unique to the military lifestyle, Becraft said. Frequent deployments cause family separations, and frequent moves disrupt family lifestyles.

"We hurl our people from the East Coast to the West Coast," Becraft said. "Our families move approximately every three years, often to another part of the world. This means our families are frequently packing and unpacking, enrolling their children in new schools, switching physicians and dentists, getting acquainted with new neighbors and getting to know new environments and new cultures."

Young families are often adjusting to new marriages and military life simultaneously, DoD officials said. Being away from home and extended family support networks often make the spouse psychologically dependent on the service member. Unemployment and underemployment of military spouses often create financial dependence on the servicemember.

Money worries, long hours on the job, dangerous duty, and frequent deployments and reunions create stress, and stress is a factor in domestic violence, officials said. Alcohol was also a factor in 60 percent of the incidents reported to family advocacy officials.

More than 290 family assistance centers worldwide are designed to help military families cope. Center specialists help families relocate, transition from civilian to military life and find employment, Becraft said. The centers also offer information and referral services, family life education, family counseling and financial management counseling.

"We are proud of our families' resiliency, and we want to support them as they make important decisions in new surroundings," she said. DoD also sponsors child development and youth programs. Family advocacy programs aim directly at preventing spousal abuse, according to Becraft.

"We must address spouse abuse by seeking to prevent it through a variety of programs that maintain the quality of life of military families and reduce the particular stressors that may trigger incidents of spouse abuse," Becraft said. "We are now emphasizing the prevention of family violence in our junior enlisted population, where most of our child and spouse abuse cases occur," she said.

Each service has efforts under way to prevent and deal with domestic violence, DoD officials said. In addition to its family advocacy programs, the Army has developed a commander's desk guide and an NCO guide for dealing with spousal abuse.

"Taking care of families makes good sense in both peace and war," said John McLaurin, deputy assistant Army secretary for personnel management and equal opportunity. "This approach is a wholesome departure from the military's old adage, 'If we wanted you to have a family, we would have issued one.'"

McLaurin said victims and perpetrators do not fit a stereotype. "They can be like you and me, and they come from all economic, social and ethnic backgrounds," he said. "This is as true for the military as it is for American society."

Service members' professional commitment is intense, he said, and it must be matched by the military's commitment to provide military members the resources to balance career and family needs.

The Marine Corps has developed a coordinated community response to domestic violence and is creating Mentors in Violence Protection. The program, under direction of the sergeant major of the Marine Corps, is designed to establish role models throughout the Corps. The Navy has a risk assessment model for child abuse and spousal abuse. The experimental model is designed to improve the consistency and quality of decision making from when a case opens to when it closes.

"Spouse abuse is about power and control through the use of violence," said Karen Heath, principal deputy assistant Navy secretary. "It is the antithesis to the Department of the Navy's core values of honor, courage and commitment."

The Navy's overall goal is to create a climate of intolerance for domestic violence and coordinate a community response to deal with it, Heath said.

Within the Air Force, family advocacy goals are to educate members and families, to raise awareness of domestic violence so that co-workers, commanders, senior NCOs and neighbors cans support each other, and to provide the skills and resiliency training so people have the tools to help them cope with frustrations, according to Ruby DeMesme, deputy assistant Air Force secretary for force management and personnel.

"All of these activities assist the Air Force in identifying at-risk families early, to respond to their individual situations and needs, and ultimately, to prevent the recurrence of domestic violence," DeMesme said.

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