Intimate betrayals: A look at domestic abuse on Fort Bragg
June 24, 2011
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - During a year-long deployment in Afghanistan (2009), the Army launched an investigation into conduct within the 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team. The complaint " noncommissioned officers, with command’s approval, released offensive material for Soldiers’ entertainment.
The Fayetteville Observer reported on this case, May 11. An investigating Army officer labeled nearly half of the slides inappropriate and in direct violation of Army values. Some slides, shown during daily briefings in Afghanistan, were not released under a Freedom of Information Act request. Of those given to the Fayetteville Observer, the paper reported, “Eleven slides were sexist, three advocated domestic violence, one was racist and two promoted child degradation.”
Of those slides in question, the racist joke suggested the reinstatement of slavery, while another showed a male Soldier kicking his pregnant girlfriend.
According to the Observer, investigators interviewed at least 32 servicemembers who were stationed at Forward Operating Base Walton during that time. Upon questioning, each disapproved of the racist slide, but nearly 99 percent reported no opposition to the sexist slides.
In this particular case, the official Army report found a leadership culture that “picks and chooses moral content … losing its ethical foundation and moral base.”
While there is no direct relationship between this case and instances of domestic violence, passive acceptance can be a precursor to behavior that is incompatible with Army values and common decency.
Types of intimate partner violence, or spousal abuse, recognized by the Army include physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional maltreatment, neglect (i.e. withholding care) and mutual abuse. To flesh out the gray area of emotional abuse, the Army considers it to include a pattern of acts or omissions that inflict psychological harm to the victim.
This abuse often leads to “low self-esteem, chronic fear or anxiety, conduct disorders, affective disorders, or other cognitive or mental impairment,” as explained in the U.S. Army Family Advocacy Program Spouse Abuse Manual. For instance, if a spouse seeks mental health care, this raises a red flag for psychologists, counselors and other health providers that abuse may be present in the marriage.
A list of Army spouse abuse prevention program objectives include: (1) identify and assess possible victims of abuse, (2) stop the abuse, (3) provide the victim immediate safety, long-term protection and support, (4) provide state-of-the-art intervention and treatment for the spouse, offender and children, (5) hold offender accountable, (6) apply system-wide policies and procedures, (7) implement quality management procedures to ensure compliance to established standards of practice and program compliance.
In many instances, the Army has more control over its own. Meaning, if the abuser is a Soldier, then he or she is subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice and Army accountability. Various installation agencies may also get involved. If the abuser is a civilian, oversight belongs to civilian authorities and agencies. In some cases, commanders will bar a civilian spouse from post, but this depends on the severity of the situation.
The same is true for Fort Bragg housing. When military police respond to a domestic dispute, there is more accountability than if an incident occurs off-post. Removing a Soldier from post housing, into the barracks, may result from MP intervention in a domestic dispute. If the incident is severe enough, a military protective order acts as a restraining order; and in extreme cases, Families are relocated under an assumed named via an abused dependent safeguard system.
Per section 3.1 in the U.S. Army Family Advocacy Program Spouse Abuse Manual, “Soldiers who perpetrate multiple, subsequent incidents of abuse or who commit severe abuse will be recommended for administrative separation from active duty (a level-five offense).”
The USAFAPSAM states, “A Soldier who engages in spouse abuse cannot be considered a good Soldier. The Soldier is responsible and accountable for his or her abusive behavior and this behavior is contrary to the core values and standards for personal excellence in the Army.”
In clear language, Soldiers must care for their Families before they can be trusted to defend our nation.
According to Yolanda Serrano, social work supervisor for the Domestic Abuse Division at Womack Army Medical Center, offenders typically blame victims for the abuse. The real issue, however, stems from factors like poor coping skills, low self esteem, a history of violence in the Family of origin, substance use/abuse, emotional/mental health disorders and other contributing factors, said Serrano.
“Offenders will often minimize their actions by admitting to a lesser act. For instance, indicating he/she did not push the individual but admitting to tapping him/her on the hands. Others may try to justify their behaviors by stating they did it because the other acted ‘crazy’ or voiced insults. Some will admit to the offenses but will not see anything wrong with the act(s). Many will tend to deny all offenses,” she added.
On Fort Bragg, residents are ordered to report actual or suspected cases of abuse, whether involving adults or children. Anonymous or documented reports can be made to various Fort Bragg agencies, including the military police (396-0391), the victim advocate hotline (322-3418), the Womack Department of Social Work (907-7869) and the Criminal Investigation Division (396-8477).
Families harmed by domestic violence can potentially heal if the emotional and physical abuse stops.
“The Families that are more likely to heal and succeed are those who acknowledge there is a problem and assume responsibility for it, join counseling and remain involved in their prescribed treatment, ultimately refraining from further abuse. The earlier treatment is sought, the more likely for success to be achieved,” Serrano said.
(Editor’s note: This is part three of a two-month series)