Air Force will add new training, staff in effort to curb domestic violence in ranks

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

The Air Force and Space Force will ramp up training on domestic violence and bolster support staff as it aims to better combat the problem following a monthslong review of its prevention and response efforts, service officials said.

The Air Force will hire new advocates at its bases for domestic violence victims and new civilian staffers for its Family Advocacy Program to boost training and education efforts, according to a service release dated Sept. 29. The new efforts come as the result of a 90-day review ordered in January by Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall of the department’s handling of domestic abuse cases. The Air Force inspector general last year found problems in the service’s managing of reports and investigations in their early stages.

“There is no place in our Air Force and Space Force family for domestic violence or interpersonal violence in any form,” Kendall, who oversees the Air Force and Space Force, said in the statement issued just ahead of October, which is national domestic violence awareness month. “While we have taken important steps to better support domestic violence survivors, we must do more to establish trust and build a foundation of respect, responsiveness and support for survivors of violence.”

Kendall requested the IG probe in September 2021 after learning of allegations that service officials had mishandled numerous domestic violence cases. His request came after an internal Air Force investigation found thousands of cases of abuse, including domestic abuse, went unreported. That review also found many victims were displeased with support services offered to them by the Air Force.

“Our review revealed areas where we could clearly improve our efforts to prevent violence and support those impacted by domestic violence,” Kendall said. “We listened to survivors and are deeply appreciative of the candid insights they provided — their candid perspectives have informed our efforts as we work to create more effective solutions to this heartbreaking issue.”

It was not immediately clear how many domestic abuse cases the Air Force and Space Force handle annually. The Defense Department defines domestic abuse as “domestic violence, or a pattern of behavior resulting in emotional or psychological abuse, economic control or interference with personal liberty” aimed at a current or former spouse or intimate partner or a person with whom the alleged abuser shares a child.

The Defense Department in its most recent published data on the issue reported domestic violence cases within the military had generally declined in the last decade. However, reports increased from fiscal 2020 to 2021 and fiscal 2021 to 2022. The Pentagon did not provide data for the individual military services in its April report to Congress on child abuse and neglect and domestic violence in fiscal 2022.

In fiscal 2022, the Pentagon received 15,479 domestic violence reports and found 8,307 incidents met its criteria for investigation, according to the April report. Those incidents involved some 6,469 unique victims.

Among those cases, 14 people died from domestic abuse in fiscal 2022, according to the report. Five of those deaths involved individuals previously reported for abuse, and four of the victims had previously reported abuse.

In addition to hiring new staff to help with domestic violence response and prevention, the Air Force will also update its policies to better align domestic violence cases with how it handles sexual assault cases, the service said.

The service will also implement an annual domestic violence exercise to test security forces, Office of Special Investigations agents, legal offices, Family Advocacy Program personnel and command teams on their responses to domestic violence incidents, the service said.

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