FORT LEE, Va. -- The question concerning domestic abuse is not whether it exists, but to what extent it happens.
The answer might surprise some. One-in-four women and one-in-nine men are subject to severe intimate partner physical violence and other aggressive behaviors, reported Terri Ceaser, a domestic abuse victim advocate with the Army Family Advocacy program here.
“This is a big problem in the United States,” she said, “and military communities are not excluded.”
Perhaps even more astounding is that national statistics – the more than 10 million men and women physically abused by intimate partners annually, for example – fall short when summing up the full scope of the problem. This is because perpetrators and victims may be fearful of reaching out for help, Ceaser said. Abusers may fear legal consequences or embarrassment. Victims may be apprehensive due to further threats of violence, social expectations and financial insecurity.
“So often, victims suffer in silence,” she acknowledged, “and it can go on for years.”
An accepted definition of domestic abuse – sometimes-labeled domestic violence or intimate partner violence – is a “pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over intimate partners.” Those behaviors include actions intended to frighten, terrorize, intimidate, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, injure or wound someone. It also can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological in nature.
Military personnel are not exempt from the specter of domestic violence. In fact, those in uniform are more likely to experience partner abuse compared to their civilian counterparts, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs. Contributing factors typically cited include long duty hours, deployments and other stresses associated with military life.
Because domestic abuse affects Soldier and family readiness, it should be on the radars of leaders at all level, advised Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston.
“There’s no room for domestic violence in our military,” he said at an Oct. 12 town hall. “I'd ask every leader in the Army to go out there and just talk to your people and their families.”
Meaning leaders should actively engage with Soldiers and loved ones as a means to identify behaviors or conditions leading to abuse, elaborated Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth. “What we’d like to do is catch families that are having problems and support them before violence happens,” she said at the same town hall. “And that’s really what we’re trying to get at … making sure that our leaders are looking at promoting a healthy command climate.”
Wormuth mentioned the Strong Bonds and Family Advocacy programs as sources of support for military personnel and Army communities. Strong Bonds is a chaplain-led program promoting healthy relationships through recreational activities, retreats and discussion. FAP, a division of Army Community Service, provides counseling, emergency assistance and behavioral health.
Those who need help can trust their cases will be handled promptly and discreetly, Ceaser assured. She noted two ways to report, restricted and unrestricted. Restricted reports do not allow law enforcement or chain of command involvement while unrestricted reports do.
Ceaser, who has a substantial history at FAP, said there is a wealth of experience and compassion awaiting those needing services.
“I know personally what it feels like to have someone verbally and emotionally control you and not have the knowledge of available services,” she said. “Because of that, I will always go the extra mile for anyone who is in need of assistance, be it the service member or civilian.”
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, an annual campaign that encourages open discussion and reflection by those concerned about or experiencing harm from toxic relationships.
A message signed by President Biden at the end of September noted how COVID-19 has only aggravated this national dilemma with “many victims facing the added pressures of increased economic insecurity, time in isolation with their abusers and limited contact with their support networks.”
The president called on “all Americans to speak out against domestic violence and support efforts to educate young people about healthy relationships centered on respect.” He further called for the support of victim advocates, service and health care providers, the legal system and community leaders to end what is considered a national tragedy.
For more information on the ACS Family Advocacy Program, call 804-734-6378/6381 or visit lee.armymwr.com/programs/family-advocacy-program. The installation victim advocate can be reached at 804-734-6459/6378. The 24/7 hotline number is 804-479-6775. For information about Strong Bonds, call 804-734-6494/0165.