Preventing Domestic Abuse in the Military Community

Rosemary Freitas Williams, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy

Rosemary Freitas Williams, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy

Rosemary Freitas Williams, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of kicking off what I believe may be the least bureaucratic activity happening in DoD this week.  It was the start of the Domestic Violence/Intimate Partner Violence Rapid Improvement Event (RIE). This  four-day event assembles subject-matter experts from law enforcement, criminal investigation, legal, medical, chaplains, sexual assault prevention and response programs, military family advocacy programs, unit commanders and family members to focus on preventing domestic abuse in the military community.

Domestic abuse and intimate partner violence is a serious national public health issue, and while the rate of incidents in the military is no greater than that of the general population, the military community is not immune.  In addition to the obvious significant negative impact on families and careers, it degrades mission readiness. That’s why preventing domestic abuse is not just a moral imperative, it is critical to national security.

Ms. Lynn Rosenthal, the White House Advisor on Violence Against Women gave the opening keynote address.  I invited her to help us gain the federal government’s perspective on this issue and to reinforce our focus on prevention.  She was impressed by the expertise, vision and passion of this working group and associated RIEs.

Lynn is a long-standing advocate for domestic violence prevention – beginning with her work as a health advisor and in domestic violence shelters.  She said that in the years before the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 was enacted, most people saw domestic violence as a private matter.  This unfortunate attitude led to blaming the victim, which allowed offenders to escape accountability.  She told us that the coordinated community response (or CCR) approach is the hallmark of the Violence Against Women Act – now celebrating its twentieth anniversary.

The evidence is clear – communities with an ongoing coordinated community response see a reduced rate of re-abuse. Maryland, for example, reduced domestic abuse rates by 41 percent over a three-year period using the CCR approach.

CCR also helps identify early indicators of family violence.  If all first responders were to use the coordinated community response model, Lynn said, we could cut the rate of domestic abuse and intimate partner violence in half.

Domestic abuse and intimate partner violence is preventable.  Prevention takes ‘social courage’ – the courage to act when we see or suspect something wrong, and not simply look away.  Every one of us has a role in preventing domestic abuse and intimate partner violence.

For more resources, click the links for the Family Advocacy Program and Military OneSource.

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Preventing Domestic Abuse in the Military Community