Domestic abuse is among many harmful behaviors of concern to the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) because of its consequences for military personnel, their families, and military readiness. RAND's National Defense Research Institute is conducting a multi-year research effort, requested by Congress in Section 546C of the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, to study domestic abuse from a variety of perspectives.

In the first phase of this study, the RAND team focused its work on identifying strategies that can help DoD and the Services prevent domestic abuse among service members and their spouses or partners before it occurs and strategies that could be effective in the military environment for outreach and communication to individuals who might have risk factors for domestic abuse.

The prevention and outreach strategies highlighted in this research were synthesized from recommendations made by 80 experts — domestic abuse survivor experts and advocates, military program or service providers and practitioners, military leaders, and domestic abuse scholars — and a scoping review of relevant literature published in the past two decades.

Key Findings:

  • Both the expert panel and scoping review results pointed to the need for prevention strategies to address not only individual and relationship risk factors but also the broader social, cultural, and systemic factors, such as social isolation and perceived tolerance of domestic abuse.
  • A comprehensive prevention approach would include strategies that fall outside the primary purview of DoD's Family Advocacy Program (FAP) and would require contributions from, for example, the Office of Force Resiliency, the Military Health Agency, training commands, military leaders, community organizations, and military offices tasked with preventing other problematic behaviors.
  • Experts cautioned against risk factors being treated as excuses or causal factors for domestic abuse, domestic abuse material becoming too diluted by other content, and non-subject-matter experts addressing sensitive domestic abuse topics.
  • Across discussions of strategies, experts noted that existing installation-level staffing, expertise, and resources were insufficient to implement some recommendations. This concern encompassed not only the capacity of FAP but also other potential key actors, such as counselors and medical staff.
  • Nearly half of the research studies in this scoping review focused on domestic abuse prevention strategies to educate and teach skills to individuals, couples, and families, and those focused on relationship and individual skills were the most common. Most studies of relationship skills strategies showed a positive impact on reducing the occurrence of domestic abuse.

Read the full article about domestic abuse in the armed forces by Laura L. Miller, Dmitry Khodyakov, Joachim O. Hero, Lisa Wagner, Coreen Farris, Katie Feistel, Emily Dao, Julia Rollison, Rosemary Li, and Jamie Ryan at RAND Corporation.