By Chris Lombardi
Thursday, March 15, 2001
Responding to reports of soaring family violence in the armed forces, a military-civilian task force has called for an all-out war against such abuse, including better services, training and determined punishment of offenders. First of two parts.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Cynthia Eng was married to a high-ranking Air Force missile launch officer. Within the first few years, he began beating and raping her. Soon he would also beat and molest their children.
As they moved from base to base, she tried over and over to get help. One base commander told her, "No officer's wife on my base is going to a shelter," while police departments from California to Ohio told her, "This is a military matter--we can't interfere."
The Family Service Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, she said, went so far as to blame her.
In 1992, after 10 years of abuse of her and her children, Cynthia shot her husband with one of his own weapons. She served three and a half years in an Ohio prison before being acquitted in a second trial. It featured her desperate 911 call in which she recounted her efforts to get help.
Today, Eng is in the vanguard of a movement of survivors and advocates who are demanding an end to what they call a crisis of domestic violence in all ranks of the U.S. military. Most of the women are civilians, their abusers are in the military and they are subject to military procedures on bases, not civilian law. Beatings and abuse that would be felonies under civilian law are often dismissed on a military base, they claim.
In response to women like Eng and a CBS News 60 Minutes documentary in 1999, "The War at Home," on domestic violence, the Pentagon established a 24-member military-civilian task force to study the problem and make recommendations to the Secretary of Defense.
The interim 119-page report issued this week contains no dramatic revelations but makes 72 recommendations, labeled the "Mother of All Recommendations." They range from amending the Uniform Code of Military Justice to better utilizing civilian resources to help battered women.
"Domestic violence is an offense against the institutional values of the Military Services of the United States of America," the report begins. "It is an affront to human dignity, degrades the overall readiness of our armed forces and will not be tolerated in the Department of Defense."
The task force urges Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld to issue a memorandum to all undersecretaries and commanding generals, ordering them to take whatever measures are necessary to eliminate domestic violence under their commands at all levels.
Reliable figures or estimates of domestic violence in the U.S. military are hard to come by. As in the case with civilians, many women do not report abuse and many military police do not know how to deal with domestic violence. Official reports are considered underestimates.
CBS News' 60 Minutes report estimated that the rate of domestic violence in the military is five times that in the civilian population. The recent report says only that among 700,000 military families, incidents reported to military agencies are down from 22 per 1,000 couples in 1997 to 17 per 1,000 in 1999. The military figures do not count unmarried "intimate partners," which are included in most civilian studies.
Current studies by Richard Gelles of the University of Pennsylvania, among others, estimate domestic violence in the military is at least two to three times higher than among civilians.
Among the report's recommendations:
Rumsfeld has 90 days to review, comment and forward the report to Congress, where the House and Senate Armed Services committees await comments from the Defense Department before taking any action. Rumsfeld is expected to issue a tough order.
The report was issued after the task force completed its first year of work, visiting four of the nation's 584 military bases: Camp Lejeune and Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, N.C., and Langley Air Force Base and Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia. More visits are planned.
The military co-chair of the task force is Marine Lt. Gen. Jack W. Klimp, former commander of Parris Island, S.C., Marine Corps training center. Asked about the military group's experience in domestic violence, Klimp said, "Quite a lot, actually. Some have been involved from the command's perspective, some from the family services perspective. For some it's personal."
Klimp said sometimes junior officers try to minimize domestic violence committed by "good Marines," and he tells them:
"Being a good Marine does not involve thumping on your wife."
The civilian co-chair is Deborah D. Tucker, director of the National Training Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence in Austin, Tex. In her work with the Texas Council on Family Violence, Tucker founded the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE, and worked for passage of the National Violence Against Women Act.
She expressed surprise 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."
Tucker and Klimp have proposed that Rumsfeld sign a memorandum stating that domestic violence is a pervasive problem within society that transcends all ethnic, racial, gender and socioeconomic boundaries and that it will not be tolerated in the Department of Defense.
These problems are nothing new, nor are the recommendations, according to advocates who have worked with survivors for years. What matters, some say, is the political will and determination to ensure that the zero-tolerance message is communicated to every one in charge at every level. Critics question whether the military, because of its nature, can truly check the violence and its willingness to enforce zero-tolerance from top to bottom.
Of the 12,043 substantiated reports of domestic violence in fiscal year 1999, 69 percent involved mild abuse, 24 percent moderate abuse, 6 percent severe abuse and 1 percent not described, according to the Defense Manpower Data Center of the Defense Department. The degrees of abuse were not defined.
Contrary to indications from the military, battered women's shelters in military communities tell a different story, one of escalating violence. Their caseload has increased--and so has the level of violence.
"We have many clients whose cases would fit the standard of a felony in the civilian community," says Christine Hansen, whose Miles Foundation is contacted by victims-survivors nationwide. "Many attacks included the use of weapons, of knives."
The details in the findings and recommendations in each of the four major areas reveal system-wide failures to address family violence issues in the military and the complex response required for the military to begin catching up with the standards adopted in the civilian world.
The task force praised the military's elaborate Family Advocacy Program and its many sub-agencies. But it expressed concern over women's lack of access to "confidential community services," saying this has an inhibiting effect on whether a woman will report violence and what she will say, for fear of repercussions.
It suggests creation of an alternative, confidential system that gives victim-survivors more freedom to devise their own solutions.
"Explore all options for creating a system of confidential services, privileged communications and/or exemptions to mandatory reporting with the goal of creating access to a credible avenue for victims of domestic violence to receive support, information, options and resources to address the violence in their lives," it says.
Investigations are often unprofessional and incomplete, making it difficult to build cases against offenders, it says, recommending more education and training.
"Although data are hard to obtain, it is apparent that relatively few military personnel are prosecuted or administratively sanctioned on charges stemming from domestic violence," it says. The report finds first-response investigations inadequate in almost every respect, from photographing injuries to taking accurate histories and witness reports. Follow-up is rare.
"Preliminary investigations conducted by first responders and misdemeanor investigators often fail to meet professional standards such as determining the primary aggressor; obtaining a history of prior violence; taking child witness statements; conducting a lethality assessment; photographing victim and offender injuries and appearance; determining offensive versus defensive injuries; and photographing property damage at the crime scene. ... Follow-up investigations are not the norm."
"Not all civilian orders of protection are entitled to enforcement on military installations," the report said, noting that many commands either ignored or were unaware of community resources on domestic violence.
It urges that the Uniform Code of Military Justice (the system that handles most crimes committed by military personnel) be amended to proscribe violation of civilian protective orders.
It recommends a full-time civilian liaison position at every military base.
Education and Training
The report recommends expanded training and education in all areas, including the military police, like those who refused to help Cynthia Eng.
"Many, if not most, military police are not trained to regard domestic violence as a serious crime," the report said, calling for standardized training across the four services and across ranks, from generals to enlisted personnel.
Nearly 10 years after she shot her abusive husband, Cynthia Eng has little faith that the military has changed enough to prevent nightmares like hers.
"It's simply not logical to expect them to," she said. "They're trained to search and destroy, not to be social workers.
"At the first sign of domestic violence, they should call in agencies outside of the military and tell the couple, 'You're going to get help--right now.'"
Chris Lombardi is a New York-based free-lance writer, covering domestic and international human rights, electoral politics and equity issues.
The Miles Foundation:
Survivors Take Action Against Abuse by Military Personnel:
Department of Defense Task Force:
The National Training Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence:
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