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Advocates Help Troubled Families

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 11, 2000 – Unseen wounds. Untold stories. Unresolved issues. Left untreated, domestic violence festers, only to flare up again and again.

Subjected to dominance and intimidation, troubled families live in fear, bereft of a basic sense of security. Their home is not a safe haven.

Help is available, yet too often, battered spouses are afraid to ask for it. Hiding bruises is less painful than letting people know what's going on at home.

Defense officials aim to eliminate domestic violence within the military community. "Domestic violence is contrary to our core values and it's something that we ought not to tolerate," said Lt. Gen. Jack W. Klimp, Marine Corps deputy commandant for manpower and reserve affairs.

Klimp and Deborah D. Tucker, executive director of the National Training Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence in Austin, Texas, are co-chairs of the DoD Domestic Violence Task Force. Over the next three years, the congressionally mandated panel's findings and recommendations will direct DoD's campaign to end domestic violence. Panel members are now visiting bases worldwide to study the problem.

In the meantime, family advocates advise people to seek help early. What may start with a push or a slap often escalates over time to beatings, serious injuries and, in some cases, even death.

In the broadest sense, domestic violence includes child abuse, according to David Lloyd, but the term generally refers to adult-to-adult violence, or spouse abuse. The head of DoD's Family Advocacy Program said in most domestic violence incidents, men are the abusers.

"If you look at studies of who is using violence in relationships, it's a male problem," he said. "If you look at the minor forms of violence -- slaps, pushes, kicks -- there are a lot of women who do that equally. But if you look at the context in which that was used, you'll find some of that was self-defense.

"When you look at economic intimidation and psychological attempts to control the situation, it's well over 50 percent male," he said. "By the time you get to the severe violence using weapons and whatever, it's overwhelmingly male."

The New Parent Support Program also falls under the family advocacy umbrella, he said. "We have found that pregnancy, particularly the birth of a first child, is a stressful time for a couple. Providing support at that time can do a lot to reduce the kind of conflict and stress and anger that could lead to family violence."

Victims often blame themselves for causing the abuse by talking back during an argument or throwing something, he noted. "But then you hear this long litany of abuse that's she's been subjected to, and it's clear she did nothing to deserve any of it. She may have raised her voice in an argument the way any normal couple might, but she did not deserve having a knife put to her throat, having her eyes blackened or her ribs broken."

Abused spouses can turn to both the civilian and military communities for help. Off base, particularly in urban areas, civilian battered women's shelters provide safe havens while domestic violence cases are investigated. "Some churches and other religious programs off the installation also provide marital counseling and support similar to military chaplains' programs," Lloyd said.

On base, family advocates serve as prevention specialists, promoting public awareness activities to help people identify family violence and ways to prevent it. They provide information about on and off base resources.

Information about DoD's Family Advocacy program can be found on the Internet at www.mfrc.calib.com. The federal Office of Personnel Management provides a wealth of information on domestic violence at www.opm.gov/workplac/html/domestic.html-ssi. The Justice Department also includes information on sexual assault, stalking and other crimes at www.ojp.usdoj.gov/vawo.

Within the military community, Lloyd said, chaplains offer marriage enrichment programs that focus on improving communication and respect for each other in the marriage. Family advocates offer individual counseling, support groups, and classes on anger and conflict management, marital communications and other subjects.

Other advocates are social workers or marriage and family therapists who work with couples who have had an incident of severe emotional, physical or sexual abuse. They generally work with victims to make sure they have taken steps to protect themselves, he said. Advocates also help abusers assess whether they would benefit from counseling or other treatment."

Some advocates spend considerable time helping victims clarify their concerns and what can be done to address them. Advocates help victims deal with communication issues, meet transportation needs and obtain victims' benefits. They also help victims understand what economic resources they have.

Often, Lloyd noted, spouses fail to report abuse because they're economically dependent on their mates. "We know it's difficult for victims who frequently face economic intimidation as one of the major factors of the abuse," he said. "The abuser may insist that they only have one car. The victim may not have a checkbook or any credit cards in her own name, and so she is very dependent on him for financial survival."

In 1995, Congress set up a program to help military spouses caught in this bind. The program provides the victim health and dental benefits and compensation based on the service member's pay for up to 36 months.

"Transitional compensation is awarded when the service member has been administratively separated due to the abuse or has been court-martialed and is getting a less than honorable discharge as a result of the abuse," Lloyd explained. Transitional compensation ends if the couple reunites.

"It's not at all uncommon for a reconciliation, then re-abuse and a reseparation, and benefits would resume at that point," he added. "If the spouse merely decides to separate or divorce, and the service member has not been separated from the service due to abuse, they're not eligible for transitional compensation."

Family advocates play an important role in helping victims understand their options, Lloyd said. They help work through the "up and down sides" of pressing charges. "If the abuser is criminally prosecuted in civilian court and then incarcerated, he would be absent without leave and could be disciplined or administratively separated under the UCMJ and she would be entitled to compensation," he said.

Often victims hesitate to leave or press charges because they want to believe the abuser will change. "A good victims' advocate will help them understand how likely that is to actually happen, and if it's not likely, how they can survive economically," he said.

Advocates help victims recognize from an emotional standpoint that their relationship with the abuser is over, and that going on with it puts their lives at risk. "Some men are quite serious when they say that they would kill someone rather than have them leave the relationship," Lloyd said. "If he's carried out previous threats, it's a reasonable judgment not to leave at that point because he may very well try to kill you.

"We do know that the time of separation and divorce is one of the most risky times for victims if there has been severe abuse," he said. "Where the abuse has been less severe -- maybe emotional abuse without the power, control and intimidation -- that may be less so."

Domestic violence often leads to debilitating depression, he said. Advocates can help victims find the inner resources and outside assistance to make a new life for themselves.

"We know people tend to parent their children the way they were parented and people tend to treat their spouses the way they saw their parents treat each other," Lloyd said. "So, if we can prevent domestic violence and help victims establish a new, independent life, we think their children will be better off emotionally, and they will be better prepared to be spouses and parents themselves."

The Defense Domestic Violence Task Force Web site, www.dtic.mil/domesticviolence/index.htm, includes information on the task force and its members, meeting notes and other related data.

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

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