A Silent Epidemic: Spousal Abuse is the Military's Best Kept Secret
Posted: 03/26/2012 9:35 am
I recently spoke with a military spouse in a 13-year marriage who has been suffering physical and emotional abuse for 11 of those 13 years.
All three of her children ages 11, 13 and 15, have all seen and felt the devastating effects of a violent home. The saddest part is that the military doesn't want to hear this is occurring, nor do they want to acknowledge they are aware of it. When the unit does become informed, many times the soldier's mission and possible loss of employment outweighs action on the military's part to immediately step in and offer resources to the family. It's the best kept secret and a silent epidemic.
As a college educated officer's wife I am aware that many military spouses don't work outside the home, especially if they're married to an enlisted soldier. They are primarily women who dedicate their lives to supporting their spouses, have little more than high a school diploma and handle everything imaginable. They also endure single parenting during long deployments, preparing to relocate on short notice and holding the family together in the process.
Domestic abuse in the military is the best kept secret and is a silent tragedy. Due to frequent moves, the majority of military families live on one income. Their only source of financial security for the family is the active duty soldier. There's also a stigma of keeping abuse a secret in the military as it limits promotion opportunities level and reputation. Moving frequently interferes with the spouse trusting anyone other than family with such personal issues. Once spouses do confide in someone and that person doesn't keep it confidential, it's possible that this news can ruin the career of the active duty soldier causing more drama and abuse at home.
Many incidents are reported by a spouse to the soldier's commanding officer. If this is an enlisted soldier this means reporting to a lower ranking officer and it's up to the officer's discretion whether to act or not on the alleged incident. Reporting it doesn't always result in action. It can bring down that abused spouse to once again keep quiet about any happenings at home. Going to the unit commander is usually the spouse's best choice no matter what the soldier's rank. Many spouses feel intimidated to do so.
Even when reported, there can be little action on the military's part to take any deliberate steps to assist with problem resolution. I've witnessed situations where a soldier was handcuffed after the spouse called 911 and pressed charges, however, afterwards the unit commander never contacted the spouse. The unit did have two lower ranking officers who came to see her. They asked when the alleged abuser would be released from jail so he could return to his duties. The spouse asked if they could help her. She was no longer authorized on bank accounts, her phone had been shut off and she had no car keys. The officers told her there was nothing they could do and to call Military One Source.
I've seen military spouses contact Military One Source, the one stop shop open 24/7 only to be told that it doesn't get into any domestic issues. They need to take it up with JAG, the Judges Advocates General (a military attorney) or with the commander. This is outrageous! It won't refer any community agencies when needing help with domestic abuse. It's scary for spouses to report the incident and then have no other resources. An active duty soldier knows their career is in jeopardy and the stay at home spouse has no outside career which can result in no financial guarantees for the abused spouse or children, even when out of the violent situation.
Community organizations out there are ready to help. Awareness of these agencies is very limited among many spouses. The majority are non-profit agencies surviving on donations and grants alone. More emphasis needs to be placed on specifically targeting military domestic abuse. Creating a world-wide emphasis on military abuse support is imperative! The Red Cross, Swords to Plowshares, Operation Care and local YMCAs all have funds to help military spouses in the event of emergency housing, grocery gift cards, phone cards or pro bono attorneys. Be passionate about those helping our country to remain safe and free! Take action! Write Congress, your State Representative, Joining Forces or contact the media to seek donated air time for this cause that not only affects us, but our future generations. Make this secret of military domestic abuse a headline!
Although this article is in reference to an enlisted soldier, it does also apply to any military personnel regardless of rank. Often an officer's spouse has even more to lose in regard to publicizing abuse to due rank level and time in service.