- FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Reuters)
- A spate of murders involving military spouses at the Fort Bragg army
base has focused new attention on domestic violence in the U.S. armed services,
which critics say the Pentagon has failed to adequately address.
- Though the military acknowledges it could do a better
job collecting statistics on domestic violence by service personnel, studies
have suggested that abuse rates are two to three times higher than in the
- Defense Department estimates suggest incidents of domestic
violence in the military rose from 18.6 per 1,000 marriages in 1990 to
25.6 per 1,000 in 1996. Rates fell slightly from 1997-1999 but there were
more moderate to severe incidents.
- The figures did not include an unknown number of cases
not reported or handled informally by commanders, or violence against girlfriends
or unmarried live-in partners, who have no legal standing in the eyes of
- "The military has simply not come to terms with
the problem. They've known about it for a long time, and have repeatedly
acknowledged the severity of the problem, but they have not dealt with
it," said Terri Spahr Nelson, a former army psychotherapist and author
of a book on rape and sexual harassment in the military.
- At Fort Bragg, home of elite U.S. airborne divisions
and Special Forces, four soldiers allegedly killed their wives in June
and July. Three were Special Forces soldiers who had served in Afghanistan.
Two committed suicide and the other two were charged with murder. One victim
was stabbed 70 times.
- In a fifth case, a major in the Special Forces was allegedly
killed by his wife, who was charged with murder.
- TASK FORCE
- In 2000, the Pentagon set up a task force on domestic
violence, which reported last year with recommendations.
- These included: holding offenders accountable -- few
are disciplined or punished today; amending the Uniform Code of Military
Justice to proscribe violations of civilian protection orders not currently
punishable; upgrading military police and forensics investigation of abuse,
and providing more confidentiality to those who report abuse.
- In response, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz
issued a strong statement declaring a "zero tolerance" policy.
- "Commanders at every level have a duty to take appropriate
steps to prevent domestic violence, protect victims and hold those who
commit it responsible," he said.
- Laura Sandler, who lives near Fort Bragg, said the army
failed to do that in her case. She was married to a major who abused and
no one in the chain of command would listen to her cries for help. A few
years after she finally got rid of him, she started dating an enlisted
man on the base.
- "He was sweet at first but the beatings soon started.
Once he beat me up in his barracks with four other soldiers watching. Nobody
did anything. I went to his commanders. They said it was terrible but they
did nothing," she said.
- Eventually, the couple was referred to a chaplain and
her boyfriend ordered to take an anger management course. He made only
half the sessions and beatings and death threats went on.
- Realizing the military authorities would take no action
against him, the boyfriend became bolder and more violent, often abusing
Sandler in public. The nightmare only ended when he was honorably discharged
and moved away.
- That pattern is not unusual. Of 1,213 reported domestic
violence incidents known to military police in 2000 considered serious
enough to merit disciplinary action, the military reported 29 in which
the perpetrator was court-martialed or sent to a civilian court for prosecution,
said University of North Carolina social anthropologist Catherine Lutz,
who has studied the issue.
- 'CULTURE OF HOSTILITY'
- "The military has an enormous investment in each
of its soldiers, but especially for those in elite units like Special Forces.
That makes them very reluctant to take any action, knowing that the military
would have to shrink quite a bit if they got rid of all the known abusers,"
- "There is also a culture of hostility toward women
in the military which includes the rape of female and some male soldiers
and civilians, lesbian and gay bashing and brutal hazing rituals,"
- Military wives and girlfriends may be especially vulnerable
to violence because they often live far from family and friends. They also
know an abuse report will quickly be passed on to unit commanders and get
back to the abuser himself.
- Many wives fear that if they speak up, their husbands'
careers will end, depriving the family of income and health benefits and
provoking more rage and violence.
- Fort Bragg garrison commander Tad Davis said commanders
tried to spot signs of trouble and intervene before violence occurred.
"We want them to seek assistance early on, before things go too far
down the road to violence," he said.
- Fort Bragg chaplain Bob Loring, who heads the base family
life program, said he regarded almost every marriage as salvageable, even
after violence. But if he feels a spouse is in danger, he will try to help
her protect herself by putting together a plan so she has somewhere to
- "If the perpetrator is willing to admit that he
has been violent and that he has been wrong, they could work together to
save that marriage," Loring said. "The military believes in taking
care of its own and taking care of its families."
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