Fight back against domestic violence: Offenders face stiff consequences
October 12, 2012
Domestic violence is more than just a family problem. It affects the entire community, and on Fort Belvoir, the need has never been greater to crack down on this offense.
"We have noticed an increase in domestic violence cases this year, over last year," said Capt. Steven Galay, Fort Belvoir Police Department Patrol Division. "It affects Families. It affects children. It affects command readiness. So, we've found that early intervention is the only way to help prevent it from escalating further."
When the FBPD gets a call about a domestic violence event, police officers investigate the scene.
"If we have probable cause to believe that an assault has occurred, and it is domestic-related, there will be an arrest or apprehension made," Galay said.
In order for an assault to become "domestic violence," the victim and offender must either be married or divorced; have a child in common, whether they are previously married or unmarried; or, they are living together, Galay said.
"Under those elements, if an assault occurs, then apprehension or arrest is mandatory," he said. "The victim has no choice or say in whether the person is titled or charged."
If a servicemember is apprehended, their chain of command is notified, and they are charged and titled with domestic assault under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. In some cases, a military or civilian protective order may be obtained for the victim.
The servicemember's commander will often require a 72-hour cool-off period, Galay added.
All domestic violence cases are investigated by special agents in the FBPD law enforcement investigations office, Galay said. Child abuse cases fall under the purview of the Child Investigative Division.
Not all domestic violence calls are really domestic violence, however, Galay said. Some are just a verbal argument that caused a neighbor concern. Nevertheless, every time the Fort Belvoir Police investigates a domestic disturbance, they notify the servicemember's chain of command.
"We get the unit involved from the very beginning. Even if we respond for an argument between a husband and wife, and there's nothing physical, we will contact the military member's chain of command, and they can choose whether to separate them at that point, or to issue a 72-hour cool-off period on their own," Galay said.
This policy was instituted by FBPD Chief of Police Timothy Wolfe four years ago, in order to help prevent verbal altercations from escalating into physical violence, Galay said.
"A lot of times we'll get calls from neighbors or friends that are concerned. When we get there, we find out that it was just a verbal argument. If that occurs, no crime occurred, but it apparently reached a level … where others heard it and it became something that they were concerned about," Galay said. "We have found that by getting the unit involved from the very beginning, that it does decrease the escalation, and that early intervention is essential."
Assessment and treatment
After a servicemember is apprehended for domestic violence, they are referred to the Department of Social Work, located in the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, for assessments and treatment. The department oversees the ACS Family Advocacy Program and is part of the Directory of Medicine.
"We provide advocacy services, assessment, treatment plans, as well as educational programs," said Lt. Col. Maria Jones, chief of the DSW.
A high percentage of domestic violence cases on Fort Belvoir involve a servicemember returning from a deployment, Jones said. That servicmember may be experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, or struggle to fit back in with their spouse or children.
"Some other triggers that we're seeing are substance abuse issues as well as behavioral health issues that they may be encountering," she added.
When a servicemember is involved in a domestic violence incident, social workers assess the servicemember to determine whether or not treatment is required. "Treatment" can be a variety of things, including classes, counseling and support groups -- all designed to help offenders and Family members handle issues in a healthy way.
"The ultimate goal is to keep the Families together," Jones said. "Once they start the treatment program … we have a very high success rate."
Offenders may be required to take an anger management class, which focuses on finding the triggers that led to acts of violence.
"One of the big points is for them to actually start recognizing when they're hitting that stress level," Jones said. "We'll often do some deep-breathing exercises. They actually do go over a lot of self-esteem issues."
They may also get referred to an offender's group in Quantico, Va., or Fort Myer, Va. The department is currently working to get an offender's program at Fort Belvoir as well, Jones said.
"If they have behavioral health issues, what we'll actually do is make the recommendation for them to receive a behavioral health assessment, either within the Department of Behavioral Health here, or through TRICARE," Jones added. "If it's a child case, we refer them to parenting classes."
Jones recommended that couples seek counseling and classes as soon as they detect warning signs of abuse.
"If the couple (is) having difficulty communicating with one another; if there's been a prior history of abuse; if there are substances involved as well, and if they know it's escalating, then they can actually seek assistance prior to it ever getting to a domestic violence (situation)," she said.
Likewise, Galay said getting help before the police are involved is the best-case scenario for military Families who want to resolve problems on their own.
"There is a stigma that is attached in cases of domestic violence. Husbands and wives and Families are sometimes reluctant to talk about what they consider to be a Family matter, but by the time we get there, it's already reached a point where it's no longer a Family matter -- it's a crime," he said. "I would encourage people to seek out the programs and resources that are available to them. Asking for help is not something to be embarrassed about; it's something that is quite healthy."
Editor's Note: This is the third installment in a three-part series on domestic violence.