Abstract: U.S. Military Policies Related to Domestic Abuse: An Intersectionality-Based Policy Analysis (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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U.S. Military Policies Related to Domestic Abuse: An Intersectionality-Based Policy Analysis

Friday, January 13, 2023
Hospitality 1 - Room 443, 4th Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Christine Highfill, MSW, PhD Candidate, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Donna Schuman, PhD, LCSW, Assistant Professor, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Sarah Toth, PhD, Associate Professional, Alabama A&M University, Huntsville, AL
LaTisha Thomas, MSW, LCSW-S, Doctoral Student, The University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Beth Anne Shelton, PhD, Professor, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Background and Purpose: The United States Department of Defense (DoD) recognizes domestic abuse as a serious problem within the military (Kurta, 2017), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2021) reported that approximately 183,000 wives of active duty men had experienced physical abuse, contact sexual violence, or stalking with intimate partner violence impact during their lifetime. Congress has mandated prevention and response policies, programs, and services and has recently updated the Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) to enumerate domestic violence as an offense (Karmack et al., 2019). However, few publicly available analyses have investigated such policies with specific attention to non-uniformed (i.e., civilian) spouses of Service Members. This paper helps fill this gap by presenting an Intersectionality-Based Policy Analysis (IBPA) of US policies related to military-connected domestic abuse (MCDA).

Methods: IBPA centers on the complex interactions of human identity, power, and marginalization, making it an ideal framework to consider how current DoD policy constructs power and privilege within its hierarchical system of rank and status. This analysis addressed all five of Hankivsky’s (2012) descriptive questions: (1) What knowledge, values, and experiences do you bring to this area of policy analysis? (2) What is the policy problem under consideration? (3) How have representations of the problem come about? (4) How are groups differentially affected by this representation of the problem? (5) What are the current policy responses to the problem? The research team retrospectively examined the policy problem, its history, differential experiences of survivors, and current policy responses. Relevant policy documents (e.g., UCMJ, memoranda, regulations, Congressional testimony, Family Advocacy Program [FAP] reports) were analyzed using the scaffolding of the IBPA’s eight guiding principles: intersecting categories, multi-level analysis, power, reflexivity, time and space, diverse knowledge, social justice, and equity (Hankivsky, 2012).

Findings: This analysis elucidated two critical challenges regarding MCDA policy: heterogeneity of definitions of domestic abuse and the identification of victims. Differences in definition within policy documents impede equity, as the criteria for abuse vary across military systems (e.g., judicial, social, command). Whether and by what entity an incident is classified as abuse determines the services and programs an MCDA survivor may access. Additionally, within policy documents, Service Members who perpetrate abuse are framed as victims (most frequently of military trauma), as is the DoD itself, since MCDA impedes mission readiness. The decentering of individuals who experience MCDA is evident in annual FAP reports that present neither outcome measures nor interventions for MCDA survivors.

Conclusions and Implications: Findings highlight a critical gap in accountability mechanisms regarding survivor outcomes and interventions. Measures of survivor outcomes should be developed and reported annually. Findings also suggest the need for consistent survivor interventions across all branches of the military, as well as civilian-based services for MCDA survivors to address the change in status a survivor undergoes when they leave the military system, whether by divorce or the military separation of their sponsor. The next step in policy analysis is to conduct a transformative review to determine how inequities might be decreased.