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DoD Addresses Combating Domestic Violence

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 14, 1997 – The speaker projected a simple, black and white stick-figure drawing on the conference room screen.

The 8-year-old artist had drawn his father yelling "You idiot" at his mother. His baby brother lay on the ground saying, "Eeek!" while the artist portrayed himself standing in a doorway crying "Help!"

The boy's family had no record of domestic violence, the speaker said, only this family portrait, a legacy of human aggression, trauma and shame. "This is why we're all here," Dr. Robert Geffner told the audience. "It's not only to stop this type of violence, but also to stop its long-term effects."

Geffner, a clinical psychologist specializing in family violence, was one of about 70 civilian experts from throughout the country who attended a DoD conference on domestic violence Feb. 6 and 7. DoD's Office of Family Policy invited the nation's leading experts to meet with about 20 top family advocacy officials from the services.

"DoD has been on the frontline addressing these issues since the mid-70s," said Bonnie J. Campbell, director of the Justice Department's Violence Against Women Office. "Your involvement was motivated by the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, which, almost by necessity, got you into this habit of dealing with family [issues], whereas for nonmilitary entities, these issues weren't addressed until the Violence Against Women Act was passed in 1994."

Within the "captive audience" of the military community, Campbell said, rules, regulations and policies can be administered and enforced. She said military officials understand the importance of dealing with family issues, since the services "recruit single members, but retain families."

Military officials use a team approach to deal with domestic violence, DoD officials said. Law enforcement, medical, religious, social and command officials join forces to do what is best for victims and families. Officials report cases to abusers' employers -- unit commanders trained to respond to such family crises. Family advocacy officials recommend treatment programs and track families from one assignment to the next.

"Because it is a command environment, we can move very quickly," said Carolyn Becraft, deputy assistant secretary of defense for personnel support, families and education. "It's probably the only spouse abuse program in the nation where reports of abuse are made to the employer. We have leverage -- a lot of things we can do to assist families."

While DoD began funding family advocacy programs "in a serious way" about seven years ago, Becraft said, the effort is now at a crossroads. "We've stood up the programs," she said. "We have a lot of data that's beginning to come in. Now we need to chart how we're going to do this in the future. We want to ensure our policy is appropriate as we move to the 21st century."

The services are embarked on strong programs with strong leadership support throughout DoD, Becraft said. "The challenge for us is to ensure we take actions to prevent spouse abuse and, if it occurs, to stop it from reoccurring in ways that are consistent with DoD's zero tolerance policy."

In July, family advocacy specialists from throughout the military gathered here to discuss the unique problems of military families and share solutions. This conference gave the nation's civilian family advocates a chance to help DoD shape policy, Becraft said. During two days of talks, DoD officials gathered information from the civilian experts and told them about the military's campaign against domestic violence.

The military lifestyle presents unique challenges for families, Becraft said. Frequent family moves and deployments that send service members into harm's way put extra stress on family members. "You can never underestimate what mobility and deployments do to a family," she said.

"Most of our spouse abuse cases are in young, immature couples who use relatively mild violence in a misguided attempt to deal with conflict," Becraft said. Military family advocates usually deal with domestic violence shortly after it first begins, she said.

The average age of couples involved in spouse abuses cases is 26, according to David Lloyd, director of DoD's Family Advocacy Program. "Many of these young couples have children," he said. "They're adjusting to marriage, parenthood and the uniqueness of military life," Lloyd said.

"They may come from a small town in Iowa, and the next thing they know they're in Germany or Okinawa, and their families and high school friends don't have the resources to come visit," he said. "All the support systems that helped them get through childhood and adolescence are now at a great geographical distance."

The young couple may also find themselves with less income than they're used to, especially if they're assigned overseas where it's difficult to find spouse employment, Lloyd said. "We've got 18-year-olds who get offers from all the credit card companies who don't know how to manage that [credit]," Lloyd said. Some military jobs have long hours and some are very dangerous. Reuniting with family members after a separation is also often difficult for families, he said.

"Imagine a young wife, who isn't a very assertive type, whose husband joins the Navy and goes to sea for six months," Lloyd said. "Suddenly she has to manage things, and she learns to like it and becomes good at it. When he comes back, his expectation is, 'Hand over the checkbook, honey.' We have this issue of reunion, readjustment of roles."

Commanders can order service members into treatment programs, administer nonjudicial punishment, administratively separate the abuser from the service or prosecute the abuser under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. "The programs that work really well are where the commanders are really involved and understand the program," Lloyd said.

In fiscal 1995, there were about 7,500 substantiated spouse abuse cases involving active duty personnel, Lloyd said. This number is down from about 9,000 cases in fiscal 1990. About 90 percent of the 1995 cases involved junior enlisted families grades E-1 through E-6.

About 74 percent of the abusers were active duty husbands. About 7 percent were active duty wives. About 2 percent were civilian husbands and 17 percent were civilian wives. The vast majority of abusers were male and the victims were female. Alcohol was involved in about 60 percent of the incidents.

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