Veterans & Domestic Violence
Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a major health issue that affects both men and women in the United States. One-third of American women (35.6%) and one-fourth (28.5%) of American men have experienced rape, assault, or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime1.
Outcomes associated with IPV include a wide range of social, physical, and mental issues. Family dissolution, adverse pregnancy outcomes, mental health issues, imprisonment, and death can be associated with IPV. IPV affects many facets of society, including medical, mental health, social services, and criminal justice systems. Moreover, productivity losses and costs caused by IPV are significant.
Military service has unique psychological, social, and environmental factors that may contribute to an increased risk of IPV among active duty service members and veterans. Military deployment and family separation may contribute to the elevated risk of IPV among veterans and their partners.
PTSD Amongst Veterans
The link between veterans and rates of domestic violence can be explained by examining the mental health issues and environmental factors veterans can face. Post-traumatic stress disorder can contribute to domestic abuse in veterans.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, such as natural disasters, serious accidents, or war2. Trauma is typically defined as events and experiences that are shocking, terrifying, or overwhelming to the individual.
People who have PTSD often re-experience traumatic events through memories or dreams. Symptoms of PTSD often come with a set of intense feelings such as grief, guilt, anger, shame, and isolation.
PTSD can lead to other problems including2:
In one study, veterans responded that 88% of them had witnessed or experienced violence while deployed2. 66% of them always indicated that the experience of combat is traumatizing. An additional 64% felt that their own experiences during deployment were personally traumatizing.
PTSD & Domestic Violence
In 2007, researchers from a variety of veterans affairs and health organizations co-opted a study on the link between domestic violence and veterans suffering from mental health disorders, including PTSD and depression3. Self-report measures of domestic violence, relationship satisfaction, and intimacy were administered at intake to 179 couples seeking relationship therapy at a Veterans Affairs clinic.
This study found domestic violence rates among veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder are higher than those of the general population. Both PTSD and depression diagnosed veterans perpetrated more violence than those with no mental health diagnosis. Domestic violence rates among depressed and PTSD-diagnosed veterans were much higher than those found in previous research.
In a national poll conducted in 2008, 60% of veteran respondents stated that their family relationships changed after their deployment. Twenty-nine percent of veterans stated a breakdown in communication and frequent arguments and conflicts occurred after deployment. Twenty-one percent of veterans expressed a lack of sexual intimacy after deployment 2.
Half of the respondents experienced an increase in conflicts and arguments, both verbal and physical. At home after their reintegration, 55% stated that they found family life challenging or very challenging after the war2.
Intimate Partner Violence Explained
Intimate partner violence is a type of domestic violence that refers to different kinds of abuse and stalking between intimate partners. An intimate partner can include anyone with whom an individual has had an intimate relationship. Intimate partners can be current or former spouses, boyfriends, or girlfriends and romantic, dating, or sexual partners.
Intimate partners may or may not be sexually intimate or live together. Intimate Partner Violence occurs in both heterosexual and same-sex relationships and can affect anyone of any age, including older adults.
Types of Intimate Partner Violence
Intimate Partner Violence includes many forms of abusive or violent behaviors. Examples of intimate partner violence include physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, stalking, and controlling or bullying behavior.
Some people experience only one form of intimate partner violence, while others may experience many. Often IPV begins as infrequent mild emotional, verbal, or controlling behavior, but it can escalate to become more frequent and severe. Intimate partner violence can be a single event or can occur on and off for many years.
Physical violence involves the use of any force meant to hurt, control, or intimidate.
Physical violence can include4:
Not all physical abuse is visible. Abuse such as strangulation can cause long-lasting internal physical damage, including brain injury. Other physical abuse can also cause or contribute to chronic medical issues that are not visible. Physical abuse can cause damage to internal organs, reproductive issues, digestive difficulties, heart problems, and high blood pressure.
Sexual violence is attempted or completed sexual contact without the other person’s consent or through reproductive coercion.
Sexual violence can include4:
Reproductive coercion occurs when shaming or forcing a partner to either get pregnant or terminate pregnancy. Partners can hide birth control pills, poke holes in condoms, or refuse to wear protection to get partner’s pregnant.
Emotional & Psychological
Emotional or Psychological IPV is when a person tries to hurt their partner’s self-worth. Intimate partner violence often starts with the use of emotionally or psychologically abusive behaviors that escalate over time.
Emotional and psychological IPV can include4:
Stalking occurs when there is frequent contact, following, talking, or sending items to an individual who is not wanting this attention or behavior. Stalking can happen between current or former partners.
Stalking can include4:
Another type of stalking that is becoming more common is called cyberstalking. Cyberstalking involves contacting or posting about you on social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Consequences of IPV
IPV affects physical and mental health through direct pathways like an injury. IPV can also impact indirect pathways by causing chronic health problems that arise from prolonged stress5. Therefore, having a history of experiencing violence is a risk factor for many diseases and conditions.
Current research suggests that the influence of abuse can persist long after the violence has stopped. The more severe the abuse, the greater its impact on physical and mental health.
How Common is IPV?
Unfortunately, IPV is common throughout the United States and affects millions of people each year. When IPV occurs in adolescence, it is called teen dating violence (TDV) and affects millions of U.S. teens each year. About 11 million women and 5 million men who reported experiencing sexual violence, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime said that they first experienced these forms of violence before the age of 18.
Data from CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) indicate6:
While violence impacts all people in the United States, some individuals and communities experience inequities in risk for violence due to the social and structural conditions in which they live, work, and play. Youth from groups that have been marginalized, such as sexual and gender minority youth, are at greater risk of experiencing sexual and physical dating violence.
IPV in the Military
Defense officials aren’t able to get a complete picture of the level of domestic abuse in the military. Officials are not meeting all the requirements of the law in reporting incidents. The Department of Defense and other services have made strides in implementing and overseeing prevention and response programs.
However, there are still gaps in the programs created by the Department of Defense. According to an analysis of the military services’ data conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), from 2015 to 2019 more than 40,000 incidents of domestic abuse involved service members, spouses, or intimate partners7. Of the more than 40,000 incidents of domestic abuse, 74 percent were physical abuse incidents.
IPV Risk Factors
Intimate partner violence is preventable. The number of factors may increase or decrease the risk of perpetrating and experiencing intimate partner violence. Understanding and addressing factors that put people at risk or protect them from violence can help prevent intimate partner violence.
Risk factors are linked to a greater likelihood of IPV perpetration. They are contributing factors but might not be direct causes. A combination of individual, relational, community and societal factors contribute to the risk of becoming a perpetrator of IPV. Understanding these multilevel factors can help identify various opportunities for prevention.
Risk factors for individuals include6:
Get Help with Domestic Violence
Many of the risk factors for domestic violence are the same in both the military and civilian populations. However, there are some additional considerations for the military population.
Military sexual assault victims often live and work with their offenders, sometimes in a superior and subordinate work relationship. Constant mobility and geographic separation isolate victims by cutting them off from family and support systems. In addition, deployments and reunification create unique stresses for military families8.
If you or a veteran you know is suffering from IPV reach out to Solara Mental Health today. Our team can answer any questions you may have and give you a better understanding of our veteran mental health services.
- Gierisch, J. M., Shapiro A. (2013 August). Intimate Partner Violence: Prevalence Among U.S. Military Veterans and Active Duty Servicemembers and a Review of Intervention Approaches. Retrieved May 22nd, 2022 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25232637/
- Luest, H., Parker, T. Veterans and Domestic Violence: the Traumatic Impact on Women. Retrieved May 22nd, 2022 from https://vawnet.org/sites/default/files/assets/images/NRCWebinar_TraumaticImpact.pdf
- Sherman, M. D. (2007, May 1). Domestic Violence in Veterans with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Who Seek Couples Therapy. Retrieved May 22nd, 2022 from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1752-0606.2006.tb01622.x
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Intimate Partner Violence Assistance Program – What is IPV? Retrieved May 22nd, 2022 from https://www.socialwork.va.gov/IPV/VETERANS_PARTNERS/WhatIPV/Types-IPV-Sexual.asp
- World Health Organization (2012). Intimate Partner Violence. Retrieved May 22nd, 2022 from https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/77432/WHO_RHR_12.36_eng.pdf
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2021, November 2). Fast Facts: Preventing Intimate Partner Violence. Retrieved May 22nd, 2022 from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/fastfact.html
- Jowers, K. (2021, May 7). How bad is DoD’s domestic abuse problem? Unclear, thanks to data gaps, auditors say. Retrieved May 22nd, 2022 from https://www.militarytimes.com/pay-benefits/2021/05/07/how-bad-is-dods-domestic-abuse-problem-unclear-thanks-to-data-gaps-auditors-say/
- Battered Women’s Justice Report (2020). Military and Veteran-Related FAQs. Retrieved May 22nd, 2022 from https://www.bwjp.org/our-work/projects/military-and-veterans-advocacy-program/military-and-veteran-faq.html