YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Early this year the Pentagon launched a new policy to encourage domestic violence victims to seek medical or emotional help without automatically prompting a criminal or command investigation.

But it’s been in only the last few weeks that medical staff and social workers at military bases worldwide have had exact guidance on this “restricted reporting” policy, according to the chief of social work at the 121st General Hospital on Yongsan Garrison in Seoul.

Now, medical clinic and emergency room staff and military family advocacy program counselors are geared up to explain the options available to male and female victims of violence at home.

“The ER knows to call us instead of the MPs,” said Maj. Dwayne Elder, who also serves as the 18th Medical Command’s social work consultant.

Staff also are ready to explain when restricted reporting might not be possible because either the victim or the abuser might be in imminent danger, said Yongsan officials.

In general, the new domestic violence policy mirrors the sexual assault reporting options the Pentagon began following last year.

Before restricted reporting, a case of sexual assault or domestic violence would automatically be forwarded to the military police and the commanders of the servicemembers involved in the case.

The newer policies give the victim the power to decide whether an instance of sexual assault or domestic violence should make its way up the chain of command.

“The victim is saying, ‘I need help,’” Elder said. “We want to give people the opportunity to get help.”

Yet there are key differences between the two policies, officials here said.

The domestic violence policy offers restricted reporting to servicemembers, civilian workers or dependents. The sexual assault policy includes servicemembers only.

And with domestic violence, health workers and advocates have more power to judge when a report should become “unrestricted” despite the victim’s wishes, according to Elder and Yvonne Kearns, the regional family advocacy program manager for the U.S. military living in South Korea.

In some cases, medical workers or advocates may decide someone within the home is in imminent danger, perhaps even the abuser. Also, any abuse involving a child must be reported to legal authorities, officials said.

Dealing with domestic violence

The military considers domestic violence to be “the use, attempted use or threatened use of force or violence against a person of the opposite sex” who:

Is a current or former spouse.Shares a child with the abuser.Shares a home with the abuser.Has shared a home with the abuser.The military encourages victims to make “unrestricted” reports, thus allowing the military police and commanders to investigate the incident as a possible crime.

However, victims in many cases now have the option to request a “restricted” report to keep the incident and treatment confidential.

To make a restricted report, a victim must contact a family advocate or health-care provider, not a police or command official. The victim can decide at a later date to press charges, though medical workers are required to keep evidence for only one year.

Telling a chaplain about domestic violence also is treated with privacy, though the chaplain may encourage victims to seek other help as well.

People wanting help dealing with domestic violence may contact their local family advocacy program office, medical clinic or hospital, military police, a unit commander or chaplain.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now