Combating Silence: Domestic Violence in the Military - Human Options


Domestic violence is the number one cause of injury to women in the United States, exceeding car accidents, muggings, and household accidents combined .1 One in three women and one in four men will experience some form of physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime,2 and couples in the military are no exception.

Service members returning home from post-9/11 wars have undergone more frequent deployments for lengthier periods of time than any other generation of U.S. soldiers before them.3 With each deployment, soldiers and their families experience increased levels of stress; stress that occurs as a result of a soldier’s departure as well as their return. When service members return from deployments, the transition back to former roles and responsibilities is not always easy and can become even more complicated if the service member returns with a disability as a result of service.

Up to 30% of military personnel exposed to war zones show signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)4, a common diagnosis for people who have experienced life threatening events. Studies have shown that soldiers with PTSD are three times more likely to be aggressive with their female partners than those without such trauma.5 Additionally, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), an injury caused by trauma to the head which can temporarily or permanently interfere with proper brain functioning, has become a signature wound of the post-9/11 wars, affecting large numbers of troops.6 Symptoms of TBI can be similar to PTSD and often involve changes in personality, increased aggression and irritability, and reduced impulse control.7 Its effects carry serious implications for the occurrence of domestic violence in military relationships.

Military Family 2

While domestic violence is a difficult topic for anyone to talk about, it is especially difficult for families in the military. As members of the U.S. Armed Forces, soldiers are entrusted to protect and defend the nation, and as such are often held to the highest of moral standards, both in their professional and personal lives. Military personnel are expected to comply with the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ); a set of rules and policies that can, at times, be stricter than civilian laws. Under UCMJ standards, domestic violence is a punishable offense that can result in serious consequences for a service member, making seeking help even less likely for military families.

Through the Strong Families, Strong Children Collaborative, funded by the Mental Health Services Act in Orange County, Human Options will be partnering with the Child Guidance Center, Children Family Futures, and Families Forward to improve the health and well-being of veterans, military families, and children throughout Orange County. Human Options will be hiring “Peer Navigators” to provide outreach, engagement, linkage and referral, education, and case management services to active duty military and veteran families. Peer Navigators will be veterans or family members of veterans who have lived military experience and, as a result, will be able to connect with military families in ways a civilian may not be able to.Army3

In order to support returning service members and their families, Human Options staff have been attending local and state conferences, as well as participating in several military-related trainings in order to offer culturally competent services. In June, community educators had the opportunity to present an Overview of Domestic Violence to more than 250 active duty Army recruiters at their Annual Training Conference for the Southern California Recruiting Battalion. The goal of this presentation was to educate recruiters on the issue, prevalence, and impact of domestic violence while encouraging them to become advocates. During her time as a graduate student at the University of Southern California, Human Options Community Education Manager, Jessica Reynaga, specialized in serving military and veteran families and was excited to present to a military audience.

“The military really is its own culture,” says Reynaga, “and it’s important to be familiar with cultural norms that allow you to effectively discuss a topic as sensitive as domestic violence. After our presentation, a number of recruiters approached us asking for additional resources and thanking us for the information; it’s great to think that these Army Recruiters, who come into contact with so many military families, are now equipped to combat signs of domestic violence when they see them.”

With nearly two million veterans living in the Golden State, California is home to the largest number of veterans in the nation. Orange County ranks among the top four counlant roots here. Human Options is extremely excited to continue expanding our services to veteran and military families by providing a safe haven and supportive network that allows these families to live productive and happy lives. By leveraging our expertise, skills, and resources with our collaborative partners, Human Options will provide a systemic approach to serving veteran families through a continuum of services that does not currently exist.


For assistance with domestic violence issues or information about our shelter and programs, call our 24-hour hotline at (877) 854-3594. To request a presentation for your school, business, group, or agency, contact Jessica Reynaga at (949) 737-5242 ext. 214.


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