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Even Before the Pandemic, Domestic Violence was a Problem in the Military Community 

“I received severe emotional abuse from my military spouse. Finally got strength to leave after a marriage of over 40 years,”a divorced military spouse. 

Photo by Senior Airman Rusty Frank

Military family members have whispered for decades about Intimate Partner Violence in our community. We’ve heard stories about friends and neighbors. We’ve been confidants for friends who needed help. Maybe we’ve been in an abusive relationship ourselves.  

Through our Advisors, alumni, and our network, MFAN continued to hear stories of domestic abuse, too. That’s why we included questions related to Intimate Partner Violence on our 2019 Military Family Support Programming Survey. We released some of that data today. The responses we received were chilling.  

Acknowledging the Problem

“I’m not by any means a violent person, but I have wanted to strike both of my wives after I came back from tours because I was so angry at the world,” a National Guard and Reserve member said. “I never did, but it was really disturbing how much I wanted to. That’s what made me start counseling.”  

Intimate Partner Violence is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as …abuse or aggression that occurs in a close relationship. According to the CDC, an intimate partner can be a current or former spouse or dating partner, and Intimate Partner Violence includes four types of behavior: physical violence; sexual violence; stalking; and psychological aggression. 

A Dangerous Quarantine

The data is even more disturbing against the backdrop of the pandemic. Since the nation began quarantining to limit the spread of COVID-19, mental health experts nationwide have sounded the alarm that quarantining forces abused people to spend even more time with their abusers, with fewer resources to help, and often with nowhere else to go. But even before the pandemic, 81% of military community respondents to MFAN’s survey said they were aware of intimate partner violence in their neighborhoods and social circles.   

“It’s really common. We’ve had multiple cases of domestic violence just in our neighborhood this year,” said the spouse of an Air Force active duty member. 

This is the first year MFAN’s support programming survey, presented by Cerner Government Services, has explored the issue, after recognizing a need for more information from military families.  

“For years now, we have heard anecdotes from our Advisors and others in the community about Intimate Partner Violence,” said MFAN’s Executive Director Shannon Razsadin. “We felt it was critical that we collect data on this issue, so that leaders and policy makers will be able to make decisions that honor and protect the health and safety of everyone in the community.”   

Digging into the Data

Among other findings, MFAN’s data showed that those who sought assistance were more likely to:  

  • Range in rank from E4 to E6, if they were active duty family members  
  • Carry more debt  
  • Be concerned with their own or a family member’s alcohol use  
  • Rate as more lonely on the UCLA Loneliness scale  
  • Have considered suicide in the past two years  

“Reporting the abuse jeopardizes the service member’s career, therefore jeopardizing the woman and her family’s livelihood. A difficult choice to make: report abuse knowing your husband will lose his job or suffer to keep food on the table? There is no easy solution. That is awful,” the spouse of a Navy active duty service member said.  

MFAN recommends that policymakers look for ways to increase communication with military and veteran families about online and virtual resources available; encourage connections with others, especially virtually, as isolation is a tactic of abusers; and reduce barriers for military spouses to seek financial or health care benefits if they or their children are experiencing abuse.   

More information about MFAN’s survey methods and demographics can be found here: https://militaryfamilyadvisorynetwork.org/survey-methods/   

 

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Image of the Author - Rebekah Sanderlin

About The Author

Rebekah Sanderlin

https://militaryfamilyadvisorynetwork.org/staff/rebekah-sanderlin/

Rebekah Sanderlin is the communication strategist for MFAN and an active duty Army spouse. After 20 years in journalism, with work in print, broadcast and new media, she transitioned to public and media relations and strategic and digital communication.

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