Reform

Outreach Key in Addressing Domestic Violence

Sept. 19, 2019 | BY David Vergun

Defense Department officials told Congress they're making progress in addressing domestic violence, but community coordination and outreach are key because of the large number of military families who do not live in military housing.

"We remain committed to the safety and welfare of our service members and their families and can never forget that our families, unfortunately, are not immune from the serious national public health issue that is domestic abuse."
Ann Thomas "A.T." Johnston, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy

Officials testified yesterday at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee's military personnel subcommittee on domestic violence in the military.

Ann Thomas "A.T." Johnston, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy, said DOD has a comprehensive prevention and response approach to domestic violence. "However, we recognize that domestic abuse presents human factor challenges that require continual training, education and improvement in the effectiveness and responsiveness of our system," she said. "We cannot do it alone," she said.

Woman dressed in a dark suit speaks at a hearing.
Ann Thomas “A.T.” Johnston
Ann Thomas “A.T.” Johnston, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy, testifies on domestic violence in the military at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee’s military personnel subcommittee, Sept. 18, 2019.
Photo By: DOD video still
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Kenneth Noyes, associate director of DOD's Family Advocacy Program, said the program provides social services aimed at protecting families — coordinating with the command, law enforcement, school systems and the military court system to hold abusers accountable for spousal and child abuse, neglect and other violent or harmful acts.

Such coordination and outreach are vital because about 70% of families do not live on military installations, he said.

Noyes said one of the biggest challenges is getting victims to seek help because of the stigma associated with domestic abuse.

Man in suit sits in front of a microphone at a hearing.
Kenneth Noyes
Kenneth Noyes, associate director of the Defense Department’s Family Advocacy Program, testifies about domestic violence in the military at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee’s military personnel subcommittee, Sept. 18, 2019.
Photo By: DOD video still
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The department is making progress in efforts to address and prevent domestic abuse within the military community, but there is still much work to be done, Johnston told the House panel.

The lawmakers also heard from a panel of domestic abuse victims. Johnston thanked them for their testimony. She acknowledged that the military has not been immune from the public health issue that is domestic abuse, and she pledged DOD's support.

Three women sit at a table behind microphones in preparation to speak at a hearing.
Victim Testimony
Victims of domestic abuse testify at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee’s military personnel subcommittee, Sept. 18, 2019.
Photo By: DOD video still
VIRIN: 190918-O-ZZ999-003C

"Each of you has taken a traumatic, heartbreaking event in your life and turned it into a call to action," she said to the abuse victims. "We hear you, and we will continue to improve our programs and services. You and all other victims of violence deserve nothing less."