Officials: Help limited for domestic violence victims overseas
November 13, 2008
Despite a decrease in domestic violence at military bases, some officials say limited resources overseas continue to make tackling abuse difficult.
At Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, referrals to its Family Advocacy Program regarding child and spousal abuse have declined from 259 cases reported in fiscal year 2006 to 197 in fiscal 2008.
But Kadena’s lack of the kinds of services available to military and civilians stateside — namely domestic violence shelters and child protective services — presents challenges for victims and advocates.
"It’s significant. It’s the most intense place in all of the nine PACAF (U.S. Pacific Air Forces) locations," said Air Force Capt. Sundonia Wonnum, chief of Kadena’s Family Advocacy Program, which provides resources and services for Air Force and Army victims.
The only domestic violence shelter that did service military families on Okinawa closed last November due to lack of funding, Wonnum said.
And a language barrier makes it difficult for victims to seek help outside military bases, she said.
"Living in Okinawa, there’s so few options, so few outlets. Problems become intense really quickly," Wonnum said. "People do report [incidents] here because they realize that their options are limited. It’s ‘I don’t know what do. I’ve got to do something.’ "
Of the 197 referrals of victims alleging physical or emotional abuse in fiscal 2008, 157 were substantiated — meaning they met the Department of Defense criteria for maltreatment, Wonnum said.
There is a discrepancy between numbers provided to Stars and Stripes from PACAF and Kadena’s Family Advocacy, which Wonnum says may be the result of a database tracking problem.
PACAF reported Kadena’s Family Advocacy received 142 referrals for fiscal year 2008 versus the 197 referrals Wonnum reported.
Numbers for referrals to Kadena Air Base are typically higher than the other eight PACAF bases, since it is the largest air base in the group, Wonnum and PACAF Family Advocacy officials said.
The base is home to about 11,500 people, according to the 18th Wing’s Civil Engineer Squadron.
Calls to MPs are up
While Kadena officials applaud the decrease in referrals, they point to an increase in calls to military police.
According to the 18th Security Forces Squadron, military police have responded to at least 47 reported calls of domestic violence in the last 10 months. The squadron said 44 cases were reported during all of 2007.
"The majority of cases we see are people getting used to the military lifestyle," said Tech. Sgt. Dana Council, noncommissioned officer in charge of the squadron’s police services.
Tack on financial hardship, deployments, little access to family support, and stress levels easily rise, officials said.
So, too, does domestic violence.
Kadena’s Family Advocacy offers paid temporary lodging for victims, as well as parenting classes, risk assessments, couples and family counseling, and mental health services.
"We hope prevention is working," Wonnum said. "We’re trying to get them to come before they have a problem."
Military’s program criticized
But some advocates are critical of the military’s programs.
Paula Lucas, executive director of a toll-free, international crisis hot line for American victims, said services like couples counseling and anger-management counseling are ineffective because the models are designed to treat a mental illness, rather than issues of authority and attitude — characteristics of abusers.
About 5 percent of calls to The American Domestic Violence Crisis Line are from servicemembers or military family members, Lucas said during a recent phone interview from her home in Oregon.
"They don’t want to lose the military person, so the strategy is, if we can get them talking then that’s a start," Lucas said. "But if there’s an imbalance of power in the relationship, it’s not going to work."
Lucas said the military needs to provide more outside resources for victims — particularly those living overseas.
"We understand that the military has a system that they follow," she said. "But we feel that if women are being abused, they probably want to speak with someone outside of the military."
Referrals up on Misawa
Air Force Capt. Carla Stephany-Cox, a Family Advocacy officer at Misawa Air Base in northern Japan, agrees, but she struggles for how the military could provide alternative options.
"Stateside … there’s a lot more free services readily available for you," she said. "Here, I don’t know how you can offer an option. I wish there was a separate social service entity of some sort."
The air base was one of four within PACAF to report slight increases in referrals in fiscal year 2008.
According to PACAF numbers, Misawa’s Family Advocacy program received 84 referrals in fiscal year 2008, and 78 the previous fiscal year.
About 2,500 families live on the base, according to Sgt. Kelly White, a Misawa base spokeswoman.
Other bases that reported similar minor increases were Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, Andersen Air Force Base on Guam and Osan Air Base in South Korea.
Stephany-Cox cited the Web site MilitaryOneSource.com, which provides a wealth of resources for servicemembers and their families, but she said accessing those resources overseas is limited to phone or online consultations.
She said her agency, too, grapples with not having a domestic violence shelter and a small staff — deployments have reduced chaplains there from eight to two.
Under significant circumstances of abuse overseas, family members will be relocated back to the States — at the military’s expense — where they can access further services, PACAF officials said.
But Misawa’s distance from other U.S. installations makes high-risk cases challenging. That’s especially true when the victim is a civilian, because they do not have access to protective orders through the military, she said.
"There are not other military resources for another 10-hour drive, three-hour train ride, one-hour flight. If there’s any potential for high-risk, we have to get them out of here," Stephany-Cox said.
Kadena’s not alone
Lt. Col. Fred Stone, chief of the Air Force Family Advocacy Program, said while he understands the limitations created by living overseas, the circumstances aren’t unusual.
"I’m empathetic with Kadena’s particular plight, but we have a lot of those same issues from other bases," he said. "I would never be able to provide services in a base that you will get in a large town."
Stone and other Air Force Family Advocacy officials say the services are working — and the numbers reflect it.
PACAF statistics show servicewide referrals to family advocacy agencies declined from 7,193 cases in fiscal 2006 to 6,283 cases in fiscal 2008.
Explaining the overall decline, Stone pointed to a decrease in Air Force members, improved outreach services and increased support from commanders.
PACAF officials said referrals are also down at the nine Pacific air bases
Tougher screenings on incoming airmen, and those with a history of domestic abuse while serving, have helped discourage incidents, said Lt. Col. Marie Colasanti, a PACAF behavioral health consultant.
"We recognize it’s such a stressful environment, and we’re not here to set them up for failure; we want them to be successful," Colasanti said.|