Domestic violence perpetrators in defence forces treated as “bad apples”

Intimate partner violence research has been largely overlooked in Australian Defence Force members and veterans, despite much international research indicating this form of violence is three times the rate of the civilian population and significantly more severe.

  • ADF has a zero-tolerance policy on domestic violence by personnel
  • Policy does not outline how perpetrators are dealt with
  • ADF mental health inquiry submissions analysis suggest DV put down to mental illness or substance abuse
  • Overseas research has found DV rates in armed forces to be three times greater

US research has found this level of intimate partner violence (IPV)and recent UK and Canadian studies has drawn similar conclusions, says QUT School of Justice PhD researcher Rebecca Pollard who is investigating the cultural and structural factors which support this finding exist in the ADF

“The ADF has a zero-tolerance policy regarding domestic violence (DV) strategy which states: ‘We hold perpetrators accountable. We will manage those people … through informal and formal resolution options including referral to services that assist with violent behaviour cessation,'” Ms Pollard said.

“This strategy suggests IPV is a significant issue to the ADF, but it does not specifically outline how perpetrators are dealt with.

“Research on US and UK militaries, however, has found that IPV is often explained as being perpetrated by abnormal individuals who suffer from mental illness or substance abuse, with PTSD the most commonly researched mental illness in military personnel.

“UK and US veterans with PTSD perpetrate IPV at significantly higher rates than the civilian population, with the severity of PTSD symptoms correlating to the severity of abuse.

“Australia’s military have been engaged in conflicts in the Middle East and unfortunately, as IPV rates have not been measured in the ADF, whether there have been corresponding increased rates of IPV as a result of increases in PTSD is not known.”

In the absence of research on IVP in the ADF, Ms Pollard analysed submissions to an inquiry into mental health of ADF members and information addressing ‘violence’ on the ADF’s website.

“I found that ADF members are at risk of perpetrating IPV based on the high personal, cultural and structural risk factors.

“Submissions from external organisations such as the RSL, partners of ADF personnel and external medical professionals contained descriptions of IPV.

“For example” ‘On two separate occasions my partner attempted suicide. On both occasions I called the ambulance against his demands and as a result I suffered physical injuries from his violence.’.

“The prevalence of substance abuse and problematic anger in this data also aligns with other countries’ research and was mentioned alongside family breakdown or separation in the submissions.

“The ADF information on its web pages revealed an awareness of the risk factor of problematic anger but discussed in terms as a symptom of mental illness.

“For example: ‘PTSD is particularly linked with anger because if you feel wound up and on edge all the time, it doesn’t take much to trigger an angry outburst’ as if it is a problem with the individual’.”

“Many ADF members perceived that admitting to a problem with IPV or seeking support services post a risk to their future employment. Many submissions referred to how individuals deny or hide IPV risk factors to avoid being stigmatised, discharged or deemed unfit to deploy.”

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