Domestic Violence: What is it and how can I get help? 

By Natalie Belville, Fort Bliss Legal Assistance Office


The Department of Defense defines “Domestic Violence” in DoD Instruction 6400.06 (note: this definition does not include child abuse, which is addressed in DoDI 6400.01).  According to the DoD definition, to specifically qualify as Domestic Violence, the relationship between the abuser and survivor must be (1) a current or former spouse, or (2) a current or former intimate partner who have lived together, or (3) a current or former intimate partner who have a shared child in common.

DV is a pattern of abusive behavior used by the abuser to gain power and control over their intimate partner. DV can happen to and by anyone, regardless of age, race, culture, education, socio-economic class, sexual orientation, religion, sex, or gender identity.  

There are many forms of DV, which often are combined, including:

  1. Physical, i.e., punching, hitting, pushing, denying medical care, or forcing drug use.
  2. Sexual, i.e., coercing sexual contact, marital rape, physical attacks on sexual body parts, forcing sexual contact after physical violence ensued, or sexually demeaning behavior.
  3. Emotional, i.e., undermining one’s sense of self, constant criticism or ridicule, name-calling, damaging their parental and/or familial relationships, or humiliation.
  4. Economic/Financial, i.e., prohibiting the partner from obtaining or keeping a job, restricting access to money, taking away their money, or only giving an allowance.
  5. Psychological, i.e., causing fear through intimidation, threatening harm to themselves or others, abusing pets, destroying property, using isolation by controlling who they interact with or where they go, justifying actions as mere jealousy, minimizing or denying their actions, blaming their abusive actions on their partner.
  6. Technological, i.e., monitoring digital/internet history, tracking locations, posting threats on digital/social media platforms, impersonation and extortion, or online stalking.

DV abuse most often occurs in cycles, rather than constant abuse. It starts with calm times, followed by tensions building, then to the abuse peaking at its worst… and back again. Abusers may apologize after the abuse peaks, only to continue the cycle again and again. These cycles can happen quickly or over significant amounts of time. Please note that not all abusers cycle in this same way, although cycles are the most common.

A DV victim may react to the abuse in a wide variety of ways – there is no cookie-cutter experience. A victim may want the abuse to end, but not the relationship; they may still love their abuser, believe the abuser can change, or believe it is in the best interest of their children to be with both parents. A victim may feel isolated, depressed, helpless, shameful, embarrassed, or even guilty. A victim may abuse alcohol or drugs or withdraw emotionally to cope with the abuse. A victim may be unaware of services they can access, have no or minimal support from friends and family, be otherwise subjected to homelessness, or feel like they will have to deal with cultural or societal backlash. These are just a few potential reasons why the dynamics of DV relationships become so complex – and why it can be incredibly difficult for DV victims to leave their abusers.

Not only does DV affect the one being abused, but it also affects family, friends, work acquaintances, and the whole community. Parents lose relationships with their children. Colleagues do not understand why the victim is withdrawing themselves, which intensifies the isolation. Children who grow up around DV are more likely to become a perpetrator or victim of DV as adults. Children who see DV may learn it is a normal behavior and can mimic the same behaviors in their own lives, thinking it is a healthy relationship.

In order to better combat DV within the military, an annual study is done to gather more information in hopes of implementing the most beneficial policies and programs. According to the 2022 Fiscal Year report on Child Abuse and Neglect and Domestic Abuse in the military, there were 15,479 reports of domestic abuse, of which 8,307 met specific criteria contained in the Department of Defense Manual pertaining to the Family Advocacy Program’s Clinical Staff Meeting and Incident Determination Committee. Of those 8,307 reports, 68.2% were for physical abuse, 25.74% were for emotional abuse, and 6.07% were for sexual abuse. Although the overall numbers have decreased over the past decade, they have once again begun to increase since 2020. Unfortunately, policies alone have not proven enough to lower the DV rates. However, resources for those experiencing DV are available, including preventative and rehabilitative resources.

 There are numerous resources for Soldiers and their dependents dealing with DV, including children. To combat DV, the Department of Defense formed a Family Advocacy Program on every installation with command-sponsored families. FAPs focus on prevention, rehabilitation, and family well-being, while offering a variety of additional programs for more specific needs. FAP provides 24/7 access to resources to DV survivors, including safety assessments, referrals to local resources, information on how to report the abuse, and services including financial assistance, counseling and emotional support, emergency housing or shelter, and legal services.

There is more than one way to report DV in the miliary, giving victims options for how and when they want to report the abuse. A “restricted” or “confidential” report can be made. These types of reports do not get sent to military law enforcement and the command. Domestic abuse victim advocates, FAP personnel, and health care providers (in some states) can keep these reports confidential; chaplains can also keep this information confidential, but they cannot connect victims to the same FAP resources. Restricted and confidential reports still provide victims with FAP services, including support in planning to get protection from the abuser. However, a restricted or confidential report is not an option if the victim is in immediate risk of serious harm.

The second way to report DV in the military is through an “unrestricted” or “non-confidential” report. These reports inform law enforcement, who will investigate and contact the alleged abuser. Command is also notified via these reports. Unlike a restricted report, the victim can use these reports as a basis for a Military or Civilian Protective Order, in addition to having access to FAP services. Victims whose reports are unrestricted have access to legal services on installations and can ask for transitional compensation. Lastly, victims are able to change their report from restricted/confidential status to unrestricted/non-confidential if they change their minds.

The Fort Bliss Family Advocacy Program offices are located at 2494 Ricker Road. They are open Monday-Friday, 7:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., and can be reached at (915) 569-4227. The Fort Bliss Victim Advocate Services office is part of the FAP and is located at the same location. Their number is (915) 269-2013, and they are open Monday-Friday, 7:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., with an Emergency Victim Advocate available 24/7. The National Domestic Violence Hotline number is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

Victims of DV can also schedule an appointment to speak with an attorney at the Fort Bliss Legal Assistance Office by either calling (915) 568-7141 during office hours or emailing anytime.