Domestic – Spousal Abuse in the Military

domestic spousal abuse military

For those who have never been in an abusive relationship, simply leaving seems like the obvious solution, yet for those who are battered, they know how hard it is to leave, feeling psychologically exhausted, isolated from friends and family, and financially controlled.

In addition, many abused women fear for their safety or their children’s safety. Leaving an abusive spouse could trigger an unfortunate, physically dangerous – sometimes deadly- attack on themselves or their children.

When it comes to abuse, military wives and intimate partners are as numb and frightened as civilians. Yet the pressures and stigma associated with military culture often makes addressing this issue seem insurmountable.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) states that of the military spousal abuse cases reported to the Department of Defense’s Family Advocacy Program, 84% involved physical abuse. But this percentage only reflects those individuals who reported abuse through military channels – meaning that many more cases remain unreported.

What is Domestic Abuse?

Domestic abuse, also known as spousal abuse, occurs when one person in an intimate relationship or marriage tries to dominate and control the other person. Domestic abuse that includes physical violence is called domestic violence, according to the website

“Domestic violence and abuse can happen to anyone, yet the problem is often overlooked, excused, or denied,” according to the website. “This is especially true when the abuse is psychological, rather than physical. Emotional abuse is often minimized, yet it can leave deep and lasting scars.”

Psychological abusers use put-downs and embarrass their partners, control what their partners say and do, refuse to give their spouses money, and act like abuse is no big deal, or it’s the victim’s fault. Abusers often use a combination of physical and psychological abuse.

The stigma associated with getting help in the military keeps some victims from seeking assistance for abuse, or any other condition that requires visiting with an advocate or mental health professional. But other factors also add to conditions surrounding abuse in the military.

Statistics report that a high percentage of military abusers have experienced domestic violence and abuse in their childhoods. In the Navy, for example, 54% of male Navy recruits and 40% of Navy women said they grew up with a history of domestic violence and abuse, according to the NCADV.

Military victims also refuse to report abuse when they fear the repercussions on their spouse’s career, especially when the victim’s sole means of support is from the perpetrator’s military pay and benefits.

Added to all the “usual” stressors of being a military spouse, the past eight years of war marked by several deployments, and service members returning from combat with trauma and war wounds, and there are even more concerns for identifying, understanding, and intervening in military spousal abuse cases.

Many studies and researchers report a strong link between a warrior’s post traumatic stress disorder and spousal abuse. As reported in the New York Times Article, “When Strains on Military Families Turn Deadly,” a 2006 study provided evidence for this link. The study showed that 80% of those PTSD committed at least one domestic violent act in the year before the study took place; and almost half committed at least one severe act.

What is the Military Doing to Help?

The military has implemented several programs to try and address issues of abuse in the military. Each base has a Family Advocacy Program (FAP), which employs victim advocates and other professionals who help victims and their families. Victim’s advocates, Military Life Consultants, chaplains and health care doctors are all required to keep admissions of abuse confidential.

These professionals help a victim seek shelter, refer the individual to an FAP clinician, counselor or psychologist. They also conduct therapy, or refer victims to community resources and therapists.

Many careers in the mental health field are specifically designed to work with domestic violence and abuse, and these careers all require a background in psychology. If you want to help military families through this important work, and you are interested in a mental health career, request information from schools offering psychology or counseling degree programs.

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