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Researchers Study Crime and Punishment

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 21, 2000 – Anyone who thinks it's OK to slap, punch, bite, kick, head butt, choke or throw their spouse up against a wall needs to think again.

"If you so much as lay a finger on your wife in any way but love, it's a crime," said Casey Gwinn, San Diego's city prosecutor. "If you put your hands around her neck, it's strangulation."

Gwinn, a member of the Defense Task Force on Domestic Violence, has dealt with domestic violence cases for 15 years. He said anyone on his turf -- man or woman -- accused of domestic violence is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

"In my dealings with batterers, my experience is that most of them are very manipulative," he said. "They know exactly how to express remorse and how to say it was the other person's fault and that they were only defending themselves."

Domestic violence victims have only three reactions, Gwinn said. "They either fight back, become passive or leave." Civilian law enforcers, he noted, now make a concentrated effort to prosecute cases regardless of whether the victim recants or tries to minimize the incident.

Gwinn is one of 12 law enforcement and domestic violence specialists studying the unique aspects of family violence within the military community. They've teamed up with 12 military staff judge advocates, commanders and senior DoD officials to improve the military's response to domestic violence.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen appointed the panel in March in accordance with the fiscal 2000 Defense Authorization Act. Lt. Gen. Jack W. Klimp, the Marine Corps deputy chief of staff for manpower and reserve affairs, serves as co-chair with Debra Tucker, executive director of the National Training Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence in Austin, Texas.

The task force took to the field in mid-September for a firsthand look at how the military deals with domestic violence. The first site visits were to the Army's Fort Bragg, N.C., and the Marine Corps' Camp Lejeune, N.C. Visits to Norfolk, Va., and Langley Air Force Base, Va., are scheduled in mid-November, followed by trips to Europe in spring 2001 and Okinawa and Korea in late summer.

In the days ahead, task force members will meet on a confidential basis with commanders, first sergeants, military police, chaplains, family and victim advocates, as well as victims and offenders. Because many military families reside off base, the panel will also visit shelters and meet with local police, medical personnel and other community officials.

The goal is not to investigate or inspect a particular command, but to assess family advocacy and domestic violence concerns throughout the military, according to Bob Stein, a senior DoD civilian who heads administrative support for the task force.

"DoD has made a substantial commitment to address domestic violence over the past few years," he said. "However, like civilian communities, DoD can continue to improve its response to domestic violence. Our goal is to help this task force provide the secretary of defense and Congress with recommendations that will help make the military's family advocacy program better than it is today."

The panel is looking at differences in how domestic violence affects the military and the civilian communities. They acknowledged, for instance, that a civilian employer might never know of an employee's family problems while a service member's chain of command becomes involved with all aspects of his or her life.

As a result, panelists said, victims often fail to report abuse or to seek help because they know doing so will impact the entire family's economic well-being. Even in severe cases, military and civilian police told the panel, victims often refuse to press charges because they fear retaliation by the offender and they fear repercussions by the chain of command.

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 does not exempt military personnel and law enforcement officers.

The defense task force is looking at the impact of the Lautenberg bill and a host of other issues.

o Do service members perceive the Family Advocacy Program as a source of help or a "career breaker?"

o Do victims get the support they need?

o Do enough victim advocates serve the military community?

o Do victims know that transitional assistance is available if their spouse is forced to leave the military?

o Should the military provide support services to intimate partners as well as spouses?

o Are military police trained to handle family violence effectively?

o Are offenders held accountable?

o Are military and community authorities sharing information on domestic violence incidents?

Punishment for domestic violence varies throughout the United States and overseas. Gwinn noted that offenders in San Diego are prosecuted, convicted and booted out of the military. In Cumberland County, N.C., on the other hand, convicted offenders are offered the option of a 16-week diversion treatment program.

"I'm not sure that it's fundamentally fair that where you are dictates what's going to happen," Gwinn said. "One guy's going to get convicted, another guy is going to get off."

Peter C. MacDonald, a district judge, said he sees cases involving service members every day in Kentucky's 3rd Judicial District Court. MacDonald, who appeared on a CBS "60 Minutes" broadcast spotlighting domestic violence in the military, said he was surprised to be asked to join the task force.

The highly critical TV show featured a murder case involving a soldier stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky. The soldier killed his live-in girlfriend in their home off base, and MacDonald and other civilian authorities blamed the military for its lack of response.

Since then, the judge said, he's seen "an amazing process take place" at Fort Campbell. "The response to domestic violence is very good there. As far as dealing with domestic violence and as far as being cognizant and trying to do the right thing, they've done very well," he said. "It's been an exciting time."

MacDonald said the defense task force might end up benefiting both the military and civilian communities.

"There's a lot to deal with." he said, "It would be great if we can come up with a really good series of recommendations to the secretary of defense to make to Congress and somehow convey or transpose these same types of recommendations to the civilian population as a whole."

Co-chairs Tucker and Klimp said they were pleased with the way the site visits went. "It was our first opportunity to sit in on a case review committee and listen to the victim advocate and other professionals try to determine what happened and what might need to happen to intervene," said Tucker, the daughter of an Air Force major.

It was evident, she said, that military commanders and other base officials recognize the impact domestic violence has on families, readiness and the mission.

"Clearly, there's been a lot of work done in the last few years to teach the impact of domestic violence. A lot of things are beginning to be put in place, but they don't necessarily provide a full safety net for victims."

"'Accountability' has come to mean that people might be immediately separated from the service," she said. "As opposed to an understanding that, unless they're engaged in a felonious assault or some other egregious use of violence, people ought to have an opportunity to learn new ways of dealing with others and to take responsibility for that behavior and put it behind them."

If someone is resistant to change, Tucker added, "then maybe we don't have any other choice but to say you're going to have to leave the service. You're not willing to make the changes necessary to be a good husband, a good father, a good member of the armed services."

Through early intervention, Tucker said, the military may be preventing some situations from growing more severe. Many of the military's reported cases are mild, she said, but others remain hidden. "When we look at the newspapers and we see a fatality here and there and yonder, then we know that there are more serious kinds of abuse taking place," she said.

At Bragg and Lejeune, Tucker said she chose to spend her time with a task force work group focused on community collaboration.

"When people live off base," she said, "it may be much more difficult for authorities within the services to identify that the abuse is going on. I would think that someone very committed to this course of behavior with their family would choose to live off base, where they wouldn't be as easily picked up."

Tucker expressed concern that victims in the military community aren't offered the opportunity to seek information and support on a more confidential basis. "I think we'll spend a lot of time looking at how can we provide that opportunity," she concluded.

Klimp agreed that the first site visits went well. "It was an opportunity for us to get out and visit units in the field and to begin getting a feel for how those units deal with the issue of domestic violence," the general said.

"I think it was very educational for all of us," he continued. "It certainly was for me, for example, to see the case review committee function and see how they consider appropriate action for a soldier or Marine involved in this kind of incident."

There were no real big surprises, the general concluded. "We'll take what we learned in these two visits on to our next visits, and eventually we will develop recommendations that we can give to the Department of Defense and to the Congress that we think will help the problem in the future."

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