Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

15633 Spouse Abuse and Combat-Related Deployments In Air Force Couples

Friday, January 13, 2012: 10:00 AM
Constitution D (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Rachel E. Foster, PhD, Chief, Mental Health Division Policy and Research, United States Air Force, San Antonio, TX
Mandy M. Rabenhorst, PhD, Research Psychologist, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL
Cindy J. Thomsen, PhD, Statistician/Researcher, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL
Joel S. Milner, PhD, Distinguished Research Professor, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL
David J. Linkh, PhD, Mental Health Flight Commander, United States Air Force, Bolling AFB, DC
Carol M. Copeland, PhD, Chief, Family Advocacy Program, United States Air Force, San Antonio, TX
Purpose: Despite the general belief that combat-related deployment is associated with increased spousal aggression, evidence showing a link between spouse abuse and deployment is weak. The purpose of this study was to conduct the first population-based investigation comparing rates of spouse abuse among married active duty Air Force (AF) personnel and their spouses after versus before combat-related deployment.

Methods: The sample included all married AF members with at least one substantiated incident of spousal physical or emotional abuse and at least one combat-related deployment between October 1, 2001 and October 31, 2008. Department of Defense (DoD) guidelines regarding the mandatory reporting of spouse abuse by active duty members and DoD civilians changed in April of 2006 to include intimate partners. Substantiated cases of intimate partner violence were deleted from this study so as not to conflate intimate partner violence and spouse abuse. During the 85-month study period, 6,063 individuals in 4,874 AF married couples were reported for 7,003 unique incidents of spouse abuse across 9,676,517 days at risk (i.e., days when neither spouse was deployed). Main Outcome Measures: Rate ratios (RRs) comparing spouse abuse rates before and after deployment were estimated using conditional Poisson regression.

Results: Overall, spouse abuse rates were lower after deployment (RR = .87, CI95%: .84, .91). This general pattern was found regardless of offender military status, type of abuse, total number of deployments, and total deployment duration. However, in some circumstances spouse abuse rates were higher after than before deployment. For example, for couples exhibiting unidirectional abuse (by either spouse) when the offender had used alcohol, post deployment abuse was higher (Male Offender RR = 1.25, CI95%: 1.08, 1.44; Female Offender RR = 1.37, CI95%: 1.05, 1.79). Further, for couples in which the husband perpetrated unilateral moderate or severe spouse abuse and used alcohol, the abuse rate was 37% higher after as compared to before deployment.

Implications: Although spouse abuse rates increased following deployment under some conditions, the overall rate was lower after deployment. However, because the present study included only abusive couples who had experienced combat-related deployment, these results do not necessarily reflect changes in rates of spouse abuse in the general AF population during the study period. In addition, the follow-up period was truncated at 85 months and it is not clear whether the post deployment patterns observed in the study period will generalize over time. Notwithstanding, the data suggest that prevention efforts should focus not just on spousal abuse but also on context and in particular on the use of alcohol.

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