Domestic Violence within the Military

Implementation of cooperation protocols

Although military installations are separated from surrounding communities in various ways, they are not islands. Military personnel and their families regularly visit these communities, and many live off installation. Domestic violence that occurs off installation is the responsibility of local civilian authorities.

In fact, civilian authorities may also have jurisdiction (and act as first responders) for incidents occurring within the installation. One of the recommendations of the Department of Defense Domestic Violence Task Force (DTFDV) was that the Department of Defense (DoD) “require installation/area commanders to sign memorandums of understanding with local communities to address domestic violence.”

While establishing such a coherent policy may be relatively straightforward for DoD, achieving this goal will likely be a significant challenge for installations and communities. RAND has explored some key challenges to consider in developing MOUs and has suggested ways to address them.

Challenges of Creating MOUs

However, the degree to which countries address these changes varies from country to country. In examining the 15 states with significant numbers of military personnel-Alaska, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

We found that all 15 states include a significant number of military personnel. we found that all 15 states include categories 1, 2, and 5 in the statutory definition of DV, but only nine of the 15 states and 12 of the 15 states include categories 3 and 4. There are also differences in whether police stops are voluntary or mandatory for violent crimes or violations of civil orders prohibiting contact with the victim (see table).

There is also the problem that while national laws may prescribe certain actions in cases of violence, responses also vary among communities within the same country. Agencies must also take into account differences in how communities use their resources to respond to violence (e.g., whether they form special units) and the extent to which they focus on building and strengthening a coordinated community response involving criminal justice, social services and nonprofit agencies, civic groups, major employers, religious and medical communities, and schools.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that many institutions fall under more than one civilian jurisdiction. In fact, soldiers at large installations may live in several municipalities or counties, and some Soldiers at installations near the state line (e.g., Fort Campbell) may live in different states.

Civilian issues in MOU development

The primary challenge for civilian personnel is that civilian agencies tend to treat violent abuse as a criminal matter requiring formal intervention, whereas military personnel tend to use an employee-like approach to outreach and discipline, operating through agency-based family support programs.

FAP personnel tend to be social workers or health professionals, rather than police officers. The role of military law enforcement is generally focused on referral to PAP services rather than the collection of evidence for criminal prosecution. Therefore, these differences must be reconciled in the MOUs.

Another challenge is that, while civilian defendants have very few legitimate excuses to avoid the required trial or DV intervention program, legitimate military needs-such as deployment or redeployment-may preclude scheduled trials, court orders, or prosecution agreements. MOUs should address this issue so that military action is predictable and agreed upon.

Another challenge is the provision of services to victims of domestic violence affecting military personnel. Since the current military definition of victims of violence includes only soldiers and current spouses, former spouses and domestic partners are not eligible for PAF services, but may seek help from civilians. And even those who qualify may opt for civilian funds. FAP counseling and assistance is not confidential – Military policy requires reporting domestic violence to commanders. MOUs should recognize and address these concerns.

The DTFDV recommended that the military approach to violence evolve toward the dominant civilian model, in which violence is treated as criminal behavior. This shift would lead to common approaches and would likely facilitate the development of cooperative relationships.


The MOD has developed MOUs with neighboring communities that can be used as models and has issued guidance to installation commanders on developing MOUs with neighboring communities. While the models are certainly useful, they may not be sufficient. Given the great diversity of civilian communities, it is unlikely that all agencies will agree on a single “model” MOU.

In addition, model protocols may not respond in sufficient detail to local circumstances. Therefore, in publishing the templates, DoD should inform the agency commander that the templates are a starting point, not the end point of the process.

Similarly, the DTFD should continue and expand the incentive program established in 2000 to improve responses to domestic violence, which can be a valuable mechanism to support institutions, especially in the early, resource-intensive stages of building partnerships.

DTFDV’s suggestion that the U.S. VAWO develop an incentive program for civic communities to support the establishment and expansion of partnerships with agencies is logical. An incentive program for civil-military partnerships is likely to encourage more civilian communities to pursue such relationships, and could also support experimentation with innovative programs and practices in communities already engaged in some level of collaboration with neighboring agencies.

Finally, DoD and VAWO (jointly or separately) should consider funding a research program that examines the factors that facilitate and hinder civil-military cooperation. The knowledge gap is surprising, given the rapidly growing body of knowledge on civil-military cooperation in the development communities.

The results of such a research program could guide local jurisdictions attempting to anticipate and overcome the challenges of successful collaboration, and could also help refine incentive programs by highlighting the types of partnership models that the military and VAWO should promote. Finally, once baseline data are established, the research program could evaluate the outcomes of established collaborative relationships.

Read our general and most popular articles

Leave a Comment