Domestic violence also known as intimate partner violence (IPV), battering, domestic abuse, family violence, among others can be described as ‘a given behavioral trait involving the abuse of a partner by the other in a family setting (intimate association) as espoused in a marriage, dating, family or cohabiting relationship.
Domestic violence is becoming more widespread in the contemporary social arena. It takes different forms including assault or aggression of a physical nature, threats of emotional or sexual abuse, neglect, and deprivation from economic resources, domineering, controlling aspects and intimidation, among others. Psychological effects, in addition to the consumption of drugs and or alcohol, are among the main causes of the violence experienced within family settings. The military is no exception: the most worrying trend is the increasing nature of violence occurring in the family setting (Jones, 2012).
Rate and Causes of Occurrence
Comparison to the Civilian Population
The issue of domestic violence in the military is not a new one and has been widespread for a long time. For example, in 2001, the rate of domestic violence in military population was 16.5 percent per 1000 people while in the civilian population, it was 3.1 percent per 1000 people. It might be stated that these rates also capture the large number of civilians as compared to the military population (Williamson, 2012). However, even when this fact is considered there is still a high percentage showing that domestic violence in the military is high. This is detrimental to the children who grow up in the military families because they learn the lessons of violence at their own households. To them, a life of violence becomes characteristic of the life of military personnel. There was a great amount of questions as the issue of domestic violence within the military is difficult to solve. However, domestic violence in military families is a complex issue of great concern compared to domestic violence in the civilian population (Jones, 2012).
Domestic violence and abuse (DVA) is on a marked rise especially within military family settings, and this has posed a challenge as to the reasons and resultant consequences of such characteristic traits. Warfare is a delicate, straining, painful and life-altering endeavor, which many soldiers experience if they are able to survive. Injuries, small or life threatening are often resultant effects of warfare if one is not fatally affected. A furtherance to this is the psychological effects, which are associated with warfare specifically so for war veterans.
Not only the above mentioned facts but also the need to defend oneself and his/her platoon necessitates the killing of other people, unfortunately, with innocent victims being killed in the crossfire. Due to the inability to save a colleague during the war, as is often the case as exemplified in bombings (car bombs, roadside bombs, mortar and rocket propelled grenade attacks) and gunshot fire (sniper fire), a soldier is left psychologically scarred and thus unbalanced. Consequently, upon returning from such engagements, a soldier is more often than not easily irritable, overly anxious and edgy in his/her day-to-day non-combat life (Friedman, 2006).
Sleep becomes a difficult process as more often than not; soldiers are plagued by vivid nightmares, which involuntarily cause reactions such as kicking, thrashing out at perceived enemies and ends up with him/her jumping out of bed to switch on the lights. The spousal partners and their children inadvertently become victims of such reactions (over-protection) with emotional distance becoming a resultant effect.
In short, normal life becomes a difficult experience as imprinted perceptions of a warzone are often affecting the day-to-day life of a soldier; never mind that he/she is no longer actively engaged in warfare. An experience of surging fear, guilt, panic and despair ultimately makes life an unbearable burden. Unable to reciprocate the warmth and love shown by family, relations or friends, a soldier often experiences a void of emotions, and this, if not duly and actively mitigated, may lead to suicide attempts. Informing such thoughts is the soldier’s feeling that his relations, friends and society in general are better off without his/her presence.
Common is the experience of enduring unrelenting anticipatory anxiety on potentially life threatening situations on a daily/hourly basis anywhere as is the case in a combat situation. Resultant is the often uncontrollable and pervasive sense of danger, which leads to the aforementioned pre-occupation with personal and family safety. A shift from combat-oriented environments to more peaceful home environments often does not reduce the above anxiety experienced as the soldiers’ perspectives already socialized to constant violence and dangers. Further is the intense fellowship that is often espoused inside a military unit that often alters a soldier’s sense of social and personal identity. This is due to the ingrained trust, interdependence and care forged within such a unit in combat environments.
Accordingly, combat experienced veterans exhibit a variety of symptoms that combined lead to the afore-mentioned PTSD syndrome. Among the stressors, there are feelings of helplessness at altering the course of events that are potentially lethal and the exposure to unpredictable and uncontrollable life-threatening situations (such as roadside bombs and ambushes). Others include the necessary killing of enemy combatants including innocent civilians, the handling of civilian, enemy combatants, allied personnel or colleague bodies, the exposure to sounds, sights and smells of dead people and the sight of devastated societies, homes and refugees because of war (Wands, 2011).
Military Members with PTSD
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the main cause of great anguish and suffering of not only military personnel and their families but also their extended family relations. As Friedman (2006) notes, the exposure to extensive combat experiences where soldiers undergo pain and suffering this personally, or experience the horrific injuries and deaths of colleagues/friends, innocent by-standers, all are contributing factors to the syndrome aforementioned. The consequential results of warfare are not only physically damaging but also negatively impactful to a soldier especially psychologically.
It should be noted, that both women and men can be and are, in fact, among victims of domestic violence.
It has always been believed that the male members of the military abuse their wives. However, this belief is misplaced because not all military personnel are male. It has also been found out that, in certain cases, husbands are the victims of domestic violence, in terms of physical and mental abuse from the wives. Therefore, while addressing issues of domestic violence within the military, both sexes should receive attention (Hill, Schroeder, Bradley, Kaplan & Angel, 2009).
Women are believed to be the constant victims of domestic violence within military families especially because most military personnel are male who have spouses who are not active military members. As such, this exposes more women to acts of domestic violence because of the stressing factors that their male spouses go through in the military (Hill, 2009).
Children are the most affected when domestic violence happens within military families because they find themselves in circumstances where they learn about the issues of war in their own homes. When domestic violence occurs in military families, children are exposed to physical injury and emotional trauma seeing their parents fighting. This affects their school performance and normal growth because of extreme stress and fear. Children socialized in a family setup that often experienced domestic violence often carry such character traits into adulthood and, thus, are more likely to be perpetrators of such actions (Klostermann, 2012).
Complexities of Domestic Violence within Military Families
Military Member: One partner
Oftentimes, soldiers are accused of being the main perpetrators of violence within the non-combat social setting. However, as McGarry (2011) purports, soldiers can become the victim to violence in the domestic setting, as well. Violence, it should be noted, can be carried out as physical, sexual or psychological torture. A soldier, when in combat, is under the overall social setup of a camp. The camp is often a piece of land that is placed outside normal legal juridical order. Here, the soldier is ‘detached’ from his/her rights by the existent deployment powers and juridical procedures. Hence, an act committed against such a person is thus categorized not as a crime, but as socialization, punishment or as a lesson to be learnt (McGarry 2011).
Soldiers often experience different forms of violence within their own camps. It may be termed as punishment for a number of reasons such as not obeying direct orders, or for not partaking in killings or torture of enemy combatant as is often the case. When one is seen as becoming ‘soft’, he/she may experience violence from colleagues as a way of ‘hardening’ them up. Sometimes, soldiers of higher rank are accused of mistreating their juniors in different ways such as physical punishment, psychological torture and to some extent sexual torture (McGarry, 2011).
Military Member: Both Partners
When domestic violence happens in a case where both spouses are members of the military, the military offers special powers to the installation commanders as they can prevent civilians from military installations. The installation commanders apply this power when it is necessary to protect the members of the military from abusive civilians (Fraser, 2011). Domestic violence issues are dealt with in two separate ways. The first way is through the military justice system, and the second is the Family Advocacy System (McGarry & Walklate, 2011).
Military Member and Non-Military spouse
The whole issue of domestic violence within the military is a difficult one to address. This is because domestic violence can happen between spouses where one party is a member of the military while the other one is not. In other cases both spouses involved in the domestic violence are members of the military. Of particular importance in this issue is the fact that the abuser could be a member of the military or not (Potter, 2011). When the abuser is not a member of the military, the military does not have control over the matter, and the information about the domestic violence can go to civilian authorities. However, the military offers special powers to the installation commanders as they can prevent civilians from military installations. The installation commanders apply this power when it is necessary to protect the members of the military from abusive civilians (Fraser, 2011).
Types of Domestic Violence Response Systems
Military Justice System
The military Justice system is the one that was established to provide the military with the needed tools to enforce discipline and order within the military; it solves issues, such as domestic violence within the military and covers both the disciplinary and the administrative systems (Klostermann, 2012).
Family Advocacy System
The Family Advocacy System concerns with identification, intervention, and treatment purposes. It does not work as a punishment system. However, this system is weak to a certain extent because the responsible committee can only produce substantiated abuse findings. They are not legally admissible evidence that can allow the punishment of the offender under the provisions found in military justice. In addition, the Family Advocacy System does not provide the offender the right of confidentiality under the military law (Elbogen, et.al, 2010).
Issues Affecting Reporting of Domestic violence within Military Families
As Williamson (2012) notes, DVA in military settings is seldom reported though there are great levels of both concern and anxiety amongst military personnel partners. This is especially so in issues concerning the impacts of family reintegration as pertaining to the different yet co-existing arenas of family setup. Approaches that are broader in aspect need to be utilized in the addressing of various areas of both decision-making and control as is espoused within such families. This is necessary for the identification of potential risks of DVA occurrence within such settings. Issues pertaining to gender roles within reintegrated military families poses great challenges and thus should be addressed clearly and wholesomely (Williamson, 2012).
The Department of Defense
The Department of defense has not engaged actively in the comprehensive collection of data with regard to family violence within the military. They do not do it because active duty military and the members of their families are reluctant to report abuse for fear that this will jeopardize the financial well-being of their families.
Domestic violence within military families is not reported because active duty military and the members of their families are reluctant to report abuse for fear that this will jeopardize the financial well-being of their families. The military personnel hate domestic call-outs because the solutions to domestic violence within the military are never clear. In fact, victims of domestic violence within the military never want to cooperate or report because they are always afraid of the threat that this might put to the career of their spouses.
Dependence on One Income
Another issue that makes it hard to report on domestic violence in military families is that many of them depend on one income. Most military families depend on the income coming from the service because they do not have the time to run other businesses. This is especially vital when both spouses are military or when one of the spouses is military personnel while the other does not work and does not have an income.
Frequent Military Movement
A soldier often experiences a complicated transition when reintegrated back to society and family, away from his combat units. Furtherance to this, it should be noted that during the soldier’s stay away from family, his/her partner assumed a variety of paternal household tasks that traditionally were performed by the soldier partner. This includes the management of finances, decision making and family issues, among others, which the at-home partner finds difficult in relinquishing to the returning soldier partner. Such reintegration, can often lead to a host of issues, such as psychological effects, the dependence on drugs and alcohol among a host of other family straining consequences.
The aforementioned resultant effects often hinder a resumption of normal peaceful family and social life, and thus, great attention should be focused on an all-encompassing process of integration. The above psychological trauma and associated effects could be further compounded if the veteran returns with physical injury on a significant level. This may, in effect, enhance the lack of co-existence, initiate suicidal thoughts, and enhance the need for drug/alcohol abuse and over-reaction to common everyday situations. Thus, clinicians are encouraged to initiate transition phases that are deeply entrenched in contexts of proper functioning and reciprocatory relationships (Potter, 2011).
Consequently, the above negative aspects of social relations may inadvertently lead to a host of resultant consequences such as suicide attempts, physical self-harm and even psychological/mental illnesses especially on the victims’ part. Domestic Violence and Abuse within military family settings is not unique to a single jurisdiction but is espoused in a number of combat engaging nations, either in the past or presently. Noted by practitioners within military settings (ideally military bases/garrisons), DVA, was on an increase (in this case in British and American social settings).
According to Fraser (2011), the deployment of military personnel is critically linked to their social backgrounds, socialization and experiences. This is notably so, as pertaining the level of experience shared and combatants socialization during war periods. Many troops are drawn either from the National Guard or the Military Reserve Service; in this case, American troops. Thus, due to their lack of full-time military cultural embedding, in addition to their not taking residency in military barracks, bases or garrisons, there is a tendency of such personnel experiencing significant difficulty in the shift from a war-zone environment to a domestic post-deployment social arena (Fraser, 2011).
When solving issues of military, the rank of a military officer comes into consideration. The higher the authority the more complex the issue becomes. In addition, junior officers’ issues are supposed to be reported to their seniors who decide either to act on domestic violence issues or ignore them (Jones, 2012).
Of particular importance in this issue is the fact that the abuser could be a member of the military or not (Potter, 2011). When the abuser is not a member of the military, the military does not have control over the matter, and the information about the domestic violence can go to civilian authorities. This limits the reporting of domestic violence because of such limitations (Potter, 2011).
Domestic violence among military families affects the reputation of military personnel to his superiors and colleagues once it is reported. This makes them threaten their spouses not to report the domestic violence even when the military members are victims. As such, it becomes difficult to report these issues because they affect the work performance of the military personnel involved.
Interventions within the Military
Interventions within the military are provided through Military Justice System and Family Advocacy system. These offer justice and advice programs that are meant to ensure that domestic violence is solved within military families. Successful readjustment and thus re-integration are pegged on routine and varied assessments of combatants guided by factors such as the veteran’s military position. As opposed to full-time military officers, veterans such as those from the National Guard and/or Military reserve troops and their families are not as much exposed to the rigors of warfare. The former are able to better cope with the aforementioned effects due to their experiencing of repeated military deployments. They are thus less likely to have various access options to either family services or social support as is the case with full-time active-duty combatants. This group should especially be screened for the possible occurrence of ‘deployment stress’, which is a bigger contributor to the post-war traumatic syndrome.
Military sexual trauma, though having higher prevalence rates among women combatants is also present among their male combatants. Group cohesion, mutual support and vital interdependence are critical to the survival of a unit in combat zones. Thus, the experience of sexual trauma can be viewed as a betrayal and a deliberate show of distrust and insecurity among members of a unit. Furtherance is the occurrence of a sense of vulnerability and apprehension, both of which can lead to bouts of violence outbreaks, abuse and even fatalities if not treated in time (Fraser, 2011).
Great attention has been focused on the increasing occurrences of interpersonal misconduct and violence amongst military personnel and their families. Risk factors are largely to blame in such case scenarios, such as aggression, depression, traumatic grief and anger. It should be noted that other factors, being both complex and multi-dimensional are also contributors to the increase in such violence. As aforementioned, the majority of troop’s contributions are those who are not engaged in full-time active duty, and thus, prolonged periods of exposure to extreme violence, death, pain and anguish often lead to a socialization of such personnel to violence and aggression.
Interventions outside the Military
There are community organizations that are ready to help in solving issues of domestic violence in military families. However, these organizations are non-profit and depend on grants and donations making them inefficient (Klostermann, Mignone, Kelley, Musson & Bohall, 2012). In addition, the awareness of these programs among military personnel is limited along with the fact that the military has its own way of dealing with the problems of its members.
Challenges of Intervention Programs
Challenges to interventions to domestic violence within the military are many including lack of reporting, unclear mechanisms to solve domestic violence, lack of cooperation between military and outside intervention programs, and lack of awareness of outside interventions by military officers.
To successfully mitigate such actions/characteristics, effective prevention of violence should begin with the perpetrators themselves. The victims should be the second priority as they seldom retaliate with violence themselves. This should entail the utility of ‘upstream approaches’ as is championed by the existent public-health model. Psychologists need to equip workers of violent prevention with the necessary fine-grained perceptive knowledge on existent perpetrator gratifications.
Though distasteful, this entails an interaction with people categorized as either being torturers or abusers in tandem with the general acknowledgement that such gratifications are embedded in the universal human past. Ultimately, this step is essential in the development of not only effective but efficient methods to be primarily utilized in the fight against violence (Nell, 2006).
Military families that often experience trauma from either the actual battlegrounds (soldiers themselves), or from domestic violence that is perpetrated by the returning solders (the soldiers’ families, relations and friends) are prime targets for the application of constructs related to the ‘attachment theory’. As advocated by Basham (2008), this approach entails a pioneering model in what is known as clinical social work practice. It entails the utilization of synthesized approaches to both psychological and social theories, which aims at assisting couples, individuals and their relations navigate through such exhaustive, painful and often difficult transitions (Basham, 2008).
Social support is of the essence as it mitigates the perspectives of violence-based settings that soldiers (especially veterans) are often socialized in. As a key protective factor in alleviating the enduring and often adverse effects of combat caused trauma, this therapeutic process is focused on addressing two persuasive areas of problems. The first is the resultant disruption of soldiers from their normal and secure attachments (families, friends and social arena) when going to missions, and then the influence of dysregulation because of combat experience or exposure.
Clinicians, practitioners and therapists at large should take note of the various limitations as pertaining to the overall treatment, assessment and cure of violence-related domestic issues. They are further advised to utilize treatments procedures that are evidence-based as more often than not such programs are successful in the overall treatment of military families. As newer approaches are discovered in the fields of pharmacology and psychotherapy, many of the unanswered questions, as pertaining to the difficulty of treating the effects of war that are, unfortunately, transferred to the homeland (domestic environments), will hopefully be answered (Elbogen, 2010).
Critical evaluation measures should be entailed as to the type of treatments best suitable for specific ailments/ symptoms affecting combatants. It should be noted that a myriad of effects that are often grouped together during treatment lead to cases of misdiagnosis or partial treatment. Further is the necessity to evaluate the use of different measures in the treatment of different disorders, some of which are effective, while others produce partially successful results. Other ailments are more complex and thus require prolonged and more intense measures of treatment.