Domestic Violence Among Military Families

Military-DV-300x200While domestic violence continues to be an epidemic globally, the problem is apparently worse within military families. Numerous studies have indicated that the rates of domestic violence within military households are substantially greater than those in the civilian population. Given the numerous military bases in and around Southern California, many domestic violence arrests in our area involve military personnel.

Suffice it to say if you are an active or veteran military member and you’ve recently been charged with domestic violence, you’re not alone. Let’s discuss this issue in greater detail.

A Look at the Data

First, let’s look at what we know when it comes to domestic violence within military families–and admittedly, many of the actual numbers are unknown:

  • More than 42,000 incidents of domestic abuse were reported in active service military households between 2015-2019. Of these, nearly 3/4 were instances of physical abuse.
  • The actual numbers of DV incidents within the military may be much higher, according to the DoD, due to insufficient data collection and the fact that many victims claim they have had trouble reporting incidents of DV.
  • The rates of domestic violence among veteran (i.e., non-active service) families actually exceed the rates of those among active service members.

This information tells us a few things. First, domestic violence is a real and pressing issue in the military community. Second, it disproportionately affects active service members, who make up only a small percentage of the population as a whole. Third, rates of DV are even higher among veteran families than active service members–suggesting that the problem may persist even after someone has left the military.

Why are DV Rates Higher Among Military Households?

What are some possible causes of domestic violence within military families? There’s no one answer to this question as DV is a complex issue with many contributing factors, and military service likely exacerbates many of these issues. Let’s look at a few probable causes:

  • Higher Rates of PTSD. It’s commonly known that wartime situations can cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A study by the Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD found that veterans who have participated in recent wars dating back to Vietnam experienced PTSD at rates of 11-20 percent (compared to 6 percent of the general population). Domestic violence rates within these households tend to be proportionately higher–an unsurprising fact as PTSD can lead to aggression, irritability, and emotional instability.
  • Higher rates of substance abuse. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, rates of alcohol abuse are significantly higher among both active and veteran military service members than the general population. This is likely due to the stress of military life, the availability of alcohol in military communities, and the fact that many veterans struggle to readjust to civilian life after leaving the service. Substance abuse can be a major contributor to incidents of domestic violence.
  • General stresses of military life. Military families face a unique set of pressures that can increase the overall stress level in the home. Military personnel often must face the repeated trauma of moving from base to base and country to country, often with little notice. They may also struggle financially due to modest wages compared with the rising cost of living. These stressors can make family life feel like a pressure cooker waiting for just the right trigger to cause a blow-up.
  • Military culture itself. Unfortunately, military culture has long been rife with sexism and misogyny. This is gradually changing as the military strives to become more inclusive, but it’s an uphill battle. Studies have shown that service members who hold sexist or misogynistic attitudes are more likely to commit intimate partner violence.
  • Lack of support services. While support systems such as the Family Advocacy Program are in place to help military families who are at risk for domestic violence, many people either don’t know these programs exist or report that they offer insufficient support. Similarly, those who have been groomed for military service often find themselves unable to cope with their frustrations and don’t know how to reach out for help before trouble strikes.

Helpful Resources for Military Families Affected by Domestic Violence

If you are part of an active or former military household who is struggling with domestic violence or who fears that you may be vulnerable, there are resources available to help. The Department of Defense’s Family Advocacy Program offers support and services for victims of domestic violence, including a 24/7 National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233). Other helpful organizations include the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Battered Women’s Justice Project, and the Safe Horizon website.

If you are a service member who is struggling with anger or violence in your home, it is important to reach out for help. Talk to your commanding officer, someone in your chain of command, or a mental health professional. There are also a number of military and veteran-specific programs that can help, such as the Military and Family Life Counseling Program and the Wounded Warrior Project. You are not alone in this struggle–help is available.

Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. There is always help and hope, but the best time to get support over domestic violence issues is before an incident occurs. If you feel you are in danger either of being a perpetrator or a victim, reach out to one of the resources above to find help without judgment.

If you have been accused of domestic violence, it is important to seek legal assistance as soon as possible to help you through the court process. Call our offices for a free consultation.

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