Task Force Calls for Crackdown on Domestic Violence
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 9, 2001 DoD's Task Force on Domestic Violence says the military must make it clear domestic violence often involves criminal behavior and challenge commanders to intensify efforts to prevent it.
The panel's 12 military and 12 civilian members agree that message must come from "the top," so they're asking the Defense Department's senior civilian leader to put out the word.
"An unequivocal statement from you will send a powerful signal throughout the department. It will make clear that this matter must be addressed decisively, judiciously and unwaveringly," task force co-chairs Marine Lt. Gen. Jack W. Klimp and Deborah D. Tucker wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
In a report sent to the secretary Feb. 28 and presented to staffers of the House and Senate armed services committees on March 9, the task force outlined its initial findings. The report also contains 59 recommendations to improve DoD's response to domestic violence, ranging from increasing military police training to enhancing victim safety.
The panel labeled the first of its 59 ideas -- the zero- tolerance memo -- "The Mother of All Recommendations." It asks the secretary to sign a proposed memorandum stating that domestic violence is a pervasive problem within society that transcends all ethnic, racial, gender and socioeconomic boundaries, and it will not be tolerated in the Department of Defense.
Rumsfeld has 90 days to review, comment and forward the report to Congress.
Overall, the task force report calls on the Defense Department to address domestic violence as it has other social problems that can adversely affect national security. Panel members noted that DoD has worked effectively, for example, to eliminate racial and gender discrimination by establishing equal opportunity policies.
DoD's "zero tolerance" policies have significantly reduced alcohol and drug abuse. A similar policy would help prevent domestic violence, the congressionally mandated panel said.
The proposed Rumsfeld policy memo, Klimp told American Forces Information Service reporters, would set the command atmosphere the general considers "key to resolving almost every issue in the military."
"When the leader of the Department of Defense says, 'This is not good,' that (message) will percolate down through the chain of command," the general said. "Commanders can make it clear within their organizations that this kind of conduct is not appropriate for members of the armed forces and it won't be tolerated."
If signed, Rumsfeld's memo would form a rock-solid foundation for the panel's recommendations, said Tucker, Klimp's civilian counterpart. During a telephone interview from her office in Austin, Texas, she said the memo would stress the "importance the secretary attaches to ferreting out appropriate ways to intervene and prevent domestic violence."
In the civilian community, she noted, the president and Congress declared their commitment to preventing domestic violence when they passed the 1994 Violence Against Women Act. Asking the secretary for a similar declaration, she said, "felt very comfortable to all of us as an appropriate, major step to take, particularly at this early stage in our effort."
The panel wants to raise awareness and increase the military's focus on domestic violence immediately, she said, rather than waiting until the end of the review. "We don't want everybody twiddling his or her thumbs for three years."
The military's success in combating substance abuse and other social ills inspires panel members to expect a corresponding "attitudinal shift" on domestic violence, Tucker said.
"What we've learned from intervening with alcohol is that we can keep people from absolutely falling into the abyss before they'll change. The same ought to be true here," she said.
Both Klimp and Tucker said military officials at the four bases visited did not hesitate to admit domestic violence is a problem within the services, just as it is in the civilian community.
"It was really heartening to see that folks weren't holding us at arm's length or trying to put up a wall between them and us," said Klimp, Marine Corps deputy commandant for manpower and reserve affairs. "They were very open. Everybody was more than willing to point out where they thought there were weaknesses in how they were dealing with the issue."
Tucker, head of the National Training Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, said she found "more cooperation than defensiveness" during the base visits. She said her experiences in civilian communities had led her to expect more opposition.
"From time to time, I've encountered people who are very defensive and closed and afraid that you're there to identify everything they're doing wrong," she remarked. "I expected a tad more of that than we saw this first year."
Tucker, who's fought domestic violence in the civilian community for 25 years, admitted she was surprised at "the depth and breadth" of the military's efforts to deal with domestic violence.
"I didn't realize there was quite as much in place as there truly is," she said. "That isn't to say that it's all working, but there's a sincere desire to try to get it right."
Asked how domestic violence within the military compares to the civilian world, Tucker said she's still studying the issue. She's not convinced, for instance, that the military has more violent offenders than the civilian community, as some people have alleged.
"I think the difference might be that when the military knows about abusive behavior, intervention at even relatively low levels of abuse tends to be much more swift and complete," she speculated.
About 69 percent of the 12,043 substantiated reports of domestic violence recorded by DoD in fiscal 1999 involved mild abuse, according to DoD officials. About 24 percent involved moderate abuse; 6 percent, severe abuse; and 1 percent, unknown.
Under its three-year charter in the fiscal 2000 Defense Authorization Act, the task force began studying domestic violence in April 2000. The group visited Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, and Langley Air Force Base and Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia. Further visits are slated to European Command in May and Pacific Command in September.
The task force found few military personnel are prosecuted or administratively sanctioned on charges stemming from domestic violence. It said military police generally are not trained to properly investigate and document domestic violence. Many MPs felt the bulk of what they had received was only on-the-job training, panelists reported.
The panel also found an across-the-board lack of awareness of the 1996 Lautenberg Amendment and its ramifications on military careers. The law prohibits anyone convicted of domestic violence from bearing a firearm.
Military spouses, the panel found, are usually unaware of the DoD Transitional Compensation Program, which provides financial and other support for victims. Many victims fail to report abuse because they fear damaging their military spouses' careers and losing the family's income and government housing.
Klimp said the bases visited so far -- one of each service -- approached domestic violence much the same way, though some places "did it a little better." The panel's 59 recommendations, he said, "could probably be classified as the 'best business practices' we've observed throughout the year."
The task force report is posted on the Defense Domestic Violence Task Force Web site at www.dtic.mil/domesticviolence/index.htm.