Military Deployment Raises the Risk of Child Abuse
> 8/1/2007 11:05:52 AM

Long-term commitment to a career in the military undoubtedly heightens personal anxiety for both the service member and his or her family. And the uncertainty of deployment overseas can aggravate an already tense situation. Studies have, unfortunately, revealed such an unusually high instance of domestic violence among military families that the Department of Defense has created an entire program (the Family Advocacy System) aimed specifically at curbing the trend. Even so, officials often do not hear the whole story, for among military spouses, concerns about pending demotion or other damage to a servicemember's career may lead to hesitation in reporting patterns of domestic violence. Confirmed abusers are 23% more likely to be permanently discharged; would that the number were higher. If the mistreatment of a minor is a factor in a case under review by the military board, local law enforcement and child safety organizations will also become involved. Earlier reports estimate that, while child abuse in general is not necessarily more common among the families of servicemembers, military children are twice as likely to die of violent abuse. The logic chain is obvious: parental anxiety is one of the main factors precipitating the mistreatment of children, and the deployment of a significant other is undoubtedly a major source of unrelieved stress.

The newest revelations on the military/abuse connection
are indeed disturbing in light of the nation's ongoing military commitments: in the absence of one parent, children are far more likely to be abused by the mother or father who stays behind. In a statistic more directly highlighting the personal costs of our current overseas engagements, independent studies show the overall rates of abuse and neglect among military families in some parts of the country nearly doubling from 2002 to 2007. While some children have been deeply immersed in military culture from a young age through living on base or with a parent who is very frequently absent due to combat obligations, many of those affected by the current conflict have not known such sacrifices before. Due to the increasing rates of call-up for members of the National Guard and the Reserves, children who've never had to deal with the situation created by an absent parent now have to adjust to a new and uncomfortable reality. More than 60,000 of the men and women in these organizations who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan have at least one child.

The current study, which was initiated by the Pentagon, funded by the medical research wing of the U.S. Army and performed by specialists at the University of North Carolina, worked from a sample consisting only of military families with at least one confirmed instance of child abuse and at least one combat deployment from 2001 to 2004. Interestingly, overall rates of direct physical violence actually decreased slightly during deployment, but the numbers for "maltreatment" and neglect rose sharply. Among "female civilian spouses," the largest group examined in the study, all numbers increased significantly during deployment: rates of maltreatment rose threefold, neglect was four times higher, and incidents of physical abuse nearly doubled. The situation seems all too predictable: married women have to adapt the lifestyle changes of single motherhood while their husbands are serving elsewhere, and their children share the burden through inattention and abuse. Military pay is very rarely sufficient for a family of three or four, and most wives must work at least part-time while their spouses are away. The standard stresses of parenthood thus intensified, restraint slowly wears away, heightening the likelihood of neglect and physical confrontation.

While the unique sacrifices made by the hundreds of thousands of men and women who serve our country both on American soil and overseas are absolutely essential to our national unity and the safety of our citizens, they in no way excuse repeated domestic violence comitted by the servicemembers themselves or the spouses they leave behind. This rings especially true when the victim is a child, and the identity of the abuser is far less important than the protection of those on the receiving end of such senseless violence. They cannot defend themselves: the average abused child counted in the current study was 6 years old. Despite motions on the part of the United States military to address these issues, more energy and greater funding clearly needs to enter the equation. The fact that the Pentagon sponsored the most recent study proves that they are aware of the severity of this trend and recognize the need for action, but compiling statistics is only a preliminary step. Programs warning parents of the difficulties created by military service should be required for everyone to whom they might even remotely apply. And statistics must be collected regardless of the light they throw on the U.S. Military as a whole. Bringing the numbers down can only be good for the public profiles of these institutions and the safety of the few children who suffer tragically under them.

No comments yet.

Post Your Comments

Post a comment
Email Address:
Verification Code:
Input the 8 characters you see above:


Drug Abuse
Sexual Addiction
Eating Disorders
Alzheimer's Disease

About TOL | Contact Us | Defining Behavioral Fitness | For Healthcare Professionals | Links | Privacy Policy