Military Families & Domestic Violence: What We Know & How We Can Help

By Jenny Rea, Ph.D. 

Jennifer Rea author pictureAs a result of the multiple transitions they experience, military families may frequently cope with increased hardship and extraordinary stress. Such challenges can weigh heavily on intimate partner and family relationships. In the midst of transitions, emotions are heightened and roles are shifted. Each family member likely responds differently to change. Therefore, frequent separation and reintegration of military service members can have undesirable impacts on families.

Recent studies have highlighted that deployments may lead to increases in unique stressors. This life-changing event can lead to depression, marital dissatisfaction, divorce, suicide, behavioral health problems, and domestic violence within the family.

Domestic violence (DV) also known as Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), is a hidden social problem that has been present for many centuries.  DV has taken its toll on many people’s mental, physical, emotional, and social health.  It is projected that DV will occur in approximately ten million homes throughout the U.S. annually.

In military populations, higher rates of DV tend to be found (5% – 32%) compared to their civilian counterparts (4% – 15%). In previous studies on relationship conflict within military families, most conflicts occurred after a deployment, when the service member returned home.

Time apart can certainly place significant stress on the service member, their family, and other relationships.  However, the presence of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) in returning service members and specifically within combat veterans is substantially associated with DV. In fact, an estimated 13.5% of veterans without PTSD perpetrated IPV compared to 33% of veterans with PTSD.

While a majority of service members and veterans diagnosed with PTSD do not engage in DV, factors such as type and level of combat exposure, substance, and alcohol abuse, as well as the length of deployment have all been found to increase the risk of the service member or veteran and PTSD to perpetrate DV.  Remarkably, PTSD is not only a risk factor for perpetration but is also a vulnerability factor for victims of DV.

There is a real need within the military to ensure that every person is treated with respect and has a loving, caring, and safe relationship. In support of Domestic Violence Awareness Month,  we’ve compiled a list of the top resources to help you better assist military families with victims and survivors of DV.

    1. The Family Advocacy Program (FAP)  is committed to supporting victims, service members, and their families impacted by domestic abuse through victim advocacy and crisis intervention. A FAP victim advocate can help with the challenges of seeking help for domestic abuse.
    2. Military OneSource has several resources to support victims of DV within military families, such as learning about transitional compensation and victim advocacy. Options for deciding if, how, and when to report DV in the military can be found in this guide.
    3. The National Domestic Violence Hotline provides essential tools and support to help survivors of domestic violence so they can live their lives free of abuse.

Other Resources

REFERENCES

    1. Bailey, R. K. (Ed.). (2020). Intimate partner violence: An evidence-based approach. Springer Nature. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-55864-2
    2. Colburn, A. R. (2020). A qualitative inquiry into the dynamics of family reintegration following a deployment (Doctoral dissertation). https://https://krex.k-state.edu
    3. Frierson, R. L. (2013). Combat-related posttraumatic stress disorder and criminal responsibility determinations in the post-Iraq era: a review and case report. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law Online, 41(1), 79-84.
    4. Graham, H. (2020). Family functioning during deployment and reintegration of military members (Doctoral dissertation). https://scholarworks.waldenu.edu
    5. Kwan, J., Sparrow, K., Facer-Irwin, E., Thandi, G., Fear, N. T., & MacManus, D. (2020).   Prevalence of intimate partner violence perpetration among military populations: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 53.
    6. Misca, G., & Forgey, M. A. (2017). The role of PTSD in bi-directional intimate partner violence in military and veteran populations: A research review. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 1394.
    7. Mitchell, R. A. (2021). Intimate Partner Violence in the Military. In Intimate Partner Violence (pp. 57-68). Springer, Cham.
    8. Mowen, T. J., Tolles, T., & Schroeder, R. D. (2020). Strain and prescription drug misuse in the United States military. Deviant Behavior, 41:11, 1454-1467, DOI: 10.1080/01639625.2019.1624289

 

This post was written by Jenny Rea, Ph.D., military spouse, and mom of four under four years. Jenny consults with the MFLN Family Transitions team to support professional development for military family service providers. You may find more blogs, podcasts, and webinars from Family Transitions. We invite you to engage with Family Transitions on Twitter @MFLNFT and with MFLN on Facebook @MilitaryFamilies.