ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- Domestic violence is a public health problem that continues to afflict the U.S., and the Family Advocacy Program within the Department of Defense addresses this issue with resources for victims of domestic violence, their families, and their communities. The DOD’s goal is to respect, support and defend any victim of domestic violence.
According to the Government Accounting Office May 2021 report on DOD domestic abuse, there were over 40,000 domestic abuse incidents involving military service members, spouses, or intimate partners from 2015-2019. Of these, 74 percent were physical abuse.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Although this issue deserves everyone’s attention throughout the year, the observance offers an opportunity to highlight the DOD’s United Against Domestic Abuse campaign and some of the resources available to leadership, service members and their families, and the community in order to help anyone who is at risk for domestic abuse.
Why is this topic important?
According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 10 million Americans are impacted by domestic violence each year.
To put this into perspective, the International Center for Research on Women, a research institute focused on tackling challenges facing women and girls worldwide, reviewed a number of academic studies showing intimate partner violence alone has direct and indirect costs to the U.S. economy between $5.8 billion and $12.6 billion a year. To help you visualize the high end of that economic cost, the U.S. Navy anticipates spending about $12.8 billion on one of their newest aircraft carriers, USS Enterprise (CVN-80).
The economic burden of domestic violence is only the tip of the iceberg to a very complex and challenging problem. While some may only see the direct impact of domestic violence on its survivors, the indirect impact on their families and communities is also devastating.
The U.S. Department of Justice defines domestic violence as a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, psychological, or technological actions or threats of actions or other patterns of coercive behavior that influence another person within an intimate partner relationship. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure or wound someone.
This definition can also be found in the Department of Defense Instruction 6400.01 and DODI 6400.06, which contain further in-depth information and guidance on the Family Advocacy Program.
What is the Family Advocacy Program?
In interviews with survivors of domestic violence for its 2021 report, the GAO also found a need for additional information about domestic abuse, including how to report it and what services are available, such as financial assistance, emotional support, emergency housing or shelter, and legal services.
To learn more about the DOD’s Family Advocacy Program, start at the Family Advocacy Program portal on Military OneSource. The site communicates DOD’s position on domestic violence: everybody deserves a life free from fear, control or harm.
The site also includes a detailed explanation of domestic violence victims’ options for restricted and unrestricted reporting of incidents. With restricted or confidential reporting, military law enforcement and command will not be notified.
The site notes that because victim safety is a priority, victims cannot use the restricted reporting option if they are in immediate risk of serious harm. The restricted reporting option also does not apply to child abuse cases, which are required by law to be reported to law enforcement and child protective services.
The site also notes some state-specific laws may require medical providers to report known or suspected incidents of domestic abuse to law enforcement regardless of a victim’s preferences.
When an unrestricted report is made, FAP will notify both law enforcement and the service member’s military command.
The United Against Domestic Abuse portal highlights options for support and provides links to local installation victim advocates.
How does the Army FAP help victims of domestic violence and their families?
Every domestic violence situation has unique elements. The Army FAP, a congressionally-funded program, addresses both domestic violence prevention and treatment.
FAP prevention is managed by the U.S. Army Installation Management Command and is housed under Army Community Service at the installation level. The installation FAP lead is called the FAP-Manager, or FAPM, and works under the ACS director.
FAP at ACS is where one can find direct help from a victim advocate. According to the Army’s FAP website, victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse have round-the-clock access to services, including emergency assistance, information, referrals, and ongoing support in accessing medical, behavioral health, legal, and law enforcement services both on and off garrison. A victim advocate is a professional who can help a person or a family to navigate the process and assist in getting specialized services.
FAP clinical treatment falls under the U.S. Army Medical Command and is housed under the installation medical treatment facility’s Department of Behavioral Health as a FAP clinic. The FAP clinical supervisor, or FAP-C, manages the clinic and assigns a FAP clinical social worker, who conducts comprehensive risk and psychosocial assessments on all military and family members involved in a domestic violence incident, including both the alleged victim and alleged offender. The FAP clinical social worker provides or coordinates needed treatment, including case management, individual therapy, marital therapy, family therapy and group therapy.
“Something important to know is the U.S. Army FAP treatment component has recently transformed its incident review process to align with evidence-based practices, including transferring oversight of the incident determination to the garrison commander and to increase the role of unit commanders,” said Michele Barber, Deputy Headquarters Department of the Army FAP manager.
Another highlight is that “The U.S. Army FAP treatment component has transformed its case review process from the historic Case Review Committee model to the Incident Determination Committee and Clinical Case Staff Meeting model in order to help DOD align FAP across the military services,” said Lt. Col. Ulu Porter, chief of Social Work Services at Keller Army Community Hospital in West Point, New York.
So what happens with a case in the FAP clinic?
When a report or referral is made to the local MTF FAP clinic regarding a suspected or known incident of domestic abuse or child abuse, FAP will reach out to all impacted members of the victim’s family, as well as the command, law enforcement and others involved in the coordinated community response, to complete an immediate risk assessment and coordinate actions to ensure the safety of all involved. Comprehensive psychosocial assessments are then scheduled for all family members.
Once safety has been established and assessment information collected, the FAP addresses the incident in two separate processes.
The first is a Clinical Case Staff Meeting, or CCSM, a confidential and closed meeting where treatment recommendations are developed for all impacted family members, including for conditions not directly related to the abuse, but identified during the assessment process.
The second is the Incident Determination Committee, or IDC, a confidential and closed administrative meeting, chaired by the installation commander, to determine whether the incident meets DOD criteria to be considered domestic abuse, child abuse or child neglect. The involved Soldier’s commander is a voting member of the IDC.
“This is a key change,” said Barber. “Both the installation commander and the Soldier’s commander participate in the incident determination process as members of the IDC. If the incident meets the criteria, that incident is included in the Army Central Registry and rolled up to DOD where the data is used in the aggregate to provide an annual report to Congress regarding abuse.”
How can I find help for myself, another victim, or a suspected victim of domestic abuse?
If you believe that you, a service member or a family member is a victim of domestic abuse, contact the Family Advocacy Program for guidance. If your safety or that of a service member or family member is at risk, contact military law enforcement.
Here are some helpful resource links that can also be found on Military OneSource:
Understanding the military response to domestic abuse
- Domestic Abuse Military Reporting Options
- Domestic Violence in the Military (written with the National Network to End Domestic Violence)
- Addressing and Preventing Sexual Abuse Between Intimate Partners
Getting help for domestic abuse and intimate partner violence
- Use the victim advocacy search tool to find the FAP victim advocate closest to you.
- Call Military OneSource to be connected to your nearest FAP, 800-342-9647.
- Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233, or chat with an advocate at thehotline.org.
For other resources on your installation, check out the Installation Community Resource Guide.
The U.S. Army Public Health Center focuses on promoting healthy people, communities, animals, and workplaces through the prevention of disease, injury, and disability of Soldiers, retirees, family members, veterans, Army civilian employees, and animals through population-based monitoring, investigations, and technical consultations.
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