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One-third of domestic violence victims in active-duty military families are men

Aug. 27, 2014 - 12:10PM   |  
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Army Special Forces Sgt. Casey Gray clearly recalls the day when his fiancée turned violent.

Gray was severely injured in a helicopter crash in early 2011 and was recuperating at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. He was in a wheelchair, with his arm in a sling and his head covered in bandages.

The couple was at a nearby hotel where she was staying when they got into an argument about money, he said.

“She struck me on the left side of my face where I had skull fractures,” Gray said in an interview. “I had stitches in my lips and it busted open. She knocked me to the ground and jumped on my back and hit me.”

Gray said he feared for his safety as the woman, about 5 feet, 8 inches tall with a fit body, pounded him with closed fists.

“I crawled and limped through the hotel door and she was like, ‘Oh, what are you going to do now?’” he said. “I put the chain on the door and she was yelling ‘Let me in, I want to talk to you.’ But I just called the police.”

Gray said he sought counseling and was later diagnosed with a condition known as “battered woman syndrome.”

A consistent ratio

Within the military, male victims of female offenders account for a full one-third of reports of domestic abuse within active-duty families, Defense Department data shows.

The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps cumulatively have averaged just under 8,000 domestic violence complaints per year over the past five years from families that include at least one active-duty service member.

More than 2,500 a year involve male victims and female offenders, according to data maintained by DoD in its Child Maltreatment and Domestic Abuse Incident Reporting System.

Those reports include troops who have a civilian spouse or partner, civilians whose spouse or partner is on active duty, and dual-military couples.

The percentage split among perpetrators — slightly more than one-third females and two-thirds males — has remained remarkably constant for the past decade, even as the yearly totals have fluctuated, according to data provided by defense officials in response to a Military Times request.

The total number of annual reports dipped in the middle years of last decade during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to as low as 6,619 in 2008.

But the annual total has since returned almost to the levels seen in the early years of last decade, the data show.

While the majority of cases involve female victims, the thousands of male victims face a unique challenge in the military community, some experts say.

“There is not much acknowledgment that men in the military can actually be victims,” said Denise Hines, a professor at Clark University who has studied domestic violence.

Hines said she believes that in the general population about one-quarter of domestic violence incidents involve men as victims, one-quarter involve women as victims and about one-half involve “mutual aggression” in which both the man and the woman are to some degree guilty of abuse.

Difficult to recognize

Inside the military, some studies suggest women are more likely to be abusive. A 2010 study by the Naval Health Research Center focused on sailors in their second year of service who were either married or cohabiting.

The study found that 15 percent of men and 32 percent of women reported committing some level of physical aggression toward their partner during the prior year.

Pentagon officials say family advocacy programs across the military are designed to respond to all types of domestic abuse, including the minority of reported cases involving female aggressors.

“Abusive behavior may look different in women than in men,” said Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a Pentagon spokesman.

“Furthermore, all women who abuse do not abuse in the same way or for the same reasons,” he said. “These differences may make it more difficult for some to recognize abusive behavior in women. A lack of knowledge concerning female offenders can lead to bias and negatively impact services to both offenders and victims.”

The services’ installation-based Family Advocacy Program offices “provide services to both victims and offenders of domestic abuse through approaches” that are designed to be gender-neutral, Christensen said.

Scant support

Gray, however, said his official report to military police was not taken seriously and resulted in little support.

“The original police officer was like, ‘Yeah, we’re going to get this taken care of,’ and he took down my statement,” he said.

“But then his supervisor came into the room and he literally laughed at me and told me that it was impossible. ‘How could a female injure a Special Forces guy?’ he said. ‘There is no way we’re going to arrest her and detain her,’ ” Gray recalled him as saying.

Gray later went to his installation’s police station to report the incident.

“They told me they were going to do nothing about it ... that I should just drop it,” he said.

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