Whether or not you've experienced domestic abuse personally, you probably know that it can have devastating consequences. Victims carry the emotional scars of abuse long after they're out of harm's way. And abusers, if not stopped, can escalate the violence until they and their victims lose everything - family, career, self-respect, and even their freedom.
The Department of Defense (DoD) is committed to addressing and ending domestic abuse. The Family Advocacy Program (FAP) works to prevent abuse by offering programs to put a stop to domestic abuse before it starts. When abuse does occur, the FAP works to ensure the safety of victims and helps military families overcome the effects of violence and change destructive behavior patterns. FAP staff members are trained to respond to incidents of abuse and neglect, support victims, and offer prevention and treatment. The following information will give you a better understanding of the FAP and how it supports families and the military mission.
The DoD is specific about what it considers domestic abuse and child abuse, and under what circumstances FAP will get involved. It defines domestic abuse as violence or a pattern of behavior resulting in emotional or psychological abuse, economic control, or interference with personal liberty directed toward a current or former spouse, a person with whom the abuser has a child, or a current or former intimate partner with whom the abuser shares or has shared a common domicile. Child abuse and neglect are defined as injury, maltreatment, or neglect to a child that harms or threatens the child's welfare. The FAP will get involved when one of the parties is a military member or, in some cases, a DoD civilian serving at an overseas installation.
For the FAP to be involved in reports of child abuse, alleged victims must be under age eighteen or incapable of self-support due to physical or mental incapacity, and in the legal care of a service member or military family member. The FAP will also intervene when a dependent military child is alleged to be the victim of abuse and neglect while in the care of a DoD-sanctioned family child care provider or installation facility such as a Child Development Center, school, or youth program.
The FAP works to prevent domestic abuse and child abuse and neglect by providing education and awareness programs for all members of the military community:
- Classes, workshops, and seminars. Couples communication, anger management, stress management, effective parenting, and conflict resolution are just a few of the educational programs available to help military families learn how to build positive relationships. The FAP also provides educational programs to leadership and to service members during unit training.
- New Parent Support Program (NPSP). Active duty service members and spouses who have or are expecting a baby may participate in the NPSP. The program offers home visitation, parenting education, and other services to help young families provide a safe and nurturing environment for their children.
- Counseling. Sometimes counseling is the best way for individuals and couples to understand and change attitudes, impulses, and patterns of interacting that contribute to hurtful and potentially violent behavior. One-on-one support helps parents develop positive parenting techniques, manage anger, and learn communication skills.
- Public awareness campaigns. The FAP works to help communities learn to recognize domestic and child abuse, where and how to report it, and how victims can get help.
When an allegation of abuse or neglect is reported, FAP professionals meet individually with suspected victims, offenders, and other family members to gather information about the allegation and the family's history. This information, along with other evidence, is used to develop recommendations for follow-up action. An important part of the program is collaboration among FAP staff, military units, law enforcement, medical and legal personnel, Family Support Centers, chaplains, and civilian agencies. This coordinated community effort is essential to prevent and respond to abusive behavior in military families.
Because abuse can take many forms and varies considerably in degree of severity, the FAP relies on a multi-disciplinary committee to evaluate reported cases and a clinical case review team to recommend a program of treatment for victims and abusers. Members of the multi-disciplinary team represent different fields, including law enforcement, health care, social services, counseling, legal services, and civilian child protective services. When allegations of abuse involve a service member, a representative from his or her command is invited to participate in the multi-disciplinary team review. When treatment is recommended for the service member, it becomes the responsibility of the command to enforce compliance with the treatment plan. Cases that meet criteria for abuse are reviewed on a regular schedule until requirements of the program of treatment have been met and victims are deemed safe from further abuse.
The FAP takes action to protect victims from further abuse and help them heal. Victim advocates support victims by providing the following services:
- Confidentiality with a restrictive reporting option. To encourage early identification of domestic abuse and help victims get the care they need while they decide what to do next, the military offers a restrictive reporting option for reporting abuse. With this option, victims can get assistance from an FAP victim advocate and receive medical care without it automatically resulting in an abuse investigation or notification to the service member's command. Because victim safety is a priority, victims at imminent risk of serious harm or cases involving child abuse are not eligible for restricted reporting.
- Help finding shelter and other support. A victim advocate may help the victim locate shelter or other safe place to stay, find legal services, refer the victim to counseling, help find child care, or help the victim find services in the local civilian community.
- Help getting a Military Protective Order (MPO). An MPO is issued by a military commander and may order the service member to surrender his or her weapons custody card or stay away from the family home. Commanders can tailor their orders to meet the specific needs of the victim. It is important to remember that neither a restraining order nor an MPO will prevent the abuser from returning home or entering the victim's workplace, but it does make it illegal for him or her to do so.
- Counseling services. Clinical counselors offer counseling services and, if appropriate, can help the victim find counseling, whether through a Military OneSource counselor or a civilian counselor in the local community.
- Intervention with civilian agencies on behalf of victims. Such agencies may include civilian courts, schools, and social services agencies.
- Help preparing a safety plan. Abuse victims need to know in advance what to do before, during, and after a domestic abuse crisis. Safety plans cover things like where to go for shelter, how to find financial and emotional support, a contingency plan for child care, and what to have ready to take with you if you have to leave home.
If you're not yet prepared to talk to someone, you can still develop a safety plan. Safety planning information is available on several Web sites, including the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
The FAP also offers abusers opportunities for rehabilitation. FAP treatment helps abusers recognize and stop their destructive behavior and begin to develop healthy family relationships.
How involvement with the FAP may affect a military career
The DoD and military Services take the position that family-member abuse will not be tolerated. In addition to the pain it causes the family, it also diminishes military performance, impacts readiness and is contrary to military values. But abuse reported to the FAP will not automatically ruin a service member's career. The first priority for the FAP and commands is to make sure victims are safe and protected from further abuse. The chain of command typically supports service members who stop abusive behavior, follow treatment recommendations, and work to achieve more positive family relationships.
With FAP intervention and treatment, many service members gain new insights into their professional and personal lives and are able to make the changes necessary for successful military service. Of course, the more extreme the violence, the more likely it is that an offender's military career will be affected. And failing to stop abusive behavior, refusing to comply with treatment plans, or causing serious injury to a family member may result in administrative discharge or court martial.