Leaders Look to Improve Domestic Violence Victim Support

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The secretary of the Air Force directed a 90-day cross-functional review Jan. 25 to comprehensively assess how domestic violence victims are supported in the Department of the Air Force.

"Domestic violence has no place in our Air and Space Forces—it breaks the bonds of our service family, destroys individuals, families, and our communities, and is illegal," said Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall. "We owe survivors of both domestic violence and sexual assault a foundation of trust to report violence, and confidence that all members of the Department of the Air Force know how to effectively respond and support."

An Inspector General of the Department of the Air Force investigation into allegations concerning improper handling of domestic violence incidents found areas for improvement in establishing trust and rapport with victims, particularly in the early stages of reporting, response and investigations.

"While we have taken actions to improve victim response and support programs, there is more work to be done in earning and sustaining the trust of survivors," Kendall said.

The review will take a holistic look at the DAF's response to domestic violence and the support services offered to survivors of abuse. The effort will include partnering with outside organizations experienced in supporting military spouses and former military spouses who are domestic violence survivors to ensure programs, therapy and services are appropriately designed and employed for the proper prevention and treatment of those experiencing abuse. Additionally, the Secretary issued a call across the DAF to consider how their actions create a safe and responsive environment for potential victims and survivors.

"Every member of our Air Force family deserves dignity and respect, and those who exhibit the strength and courage to seek support must be able to do so with the knowledge they will be treated with genuine care and competence," said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr.

The DAF has taken on multiple initiatives in recent years to combat domestic violence.

"Our approach is centered on supporting survivors and helping to prevent domestic violence and/or sexual assault in the first place," said Under Secretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones. "This is a warfighting issue, a readiness issue and a leadership issue."

The Department of the Air Force recently established a "Connect to Care" approach outlining explicit expectations for providing victim services. In July, the under secretary of the Air Force directed the Integrated Response Center Co-location Pilot at seven installations to improve awareness of response services, minimize re-traumatization to the greatest extent possible and improve data collection and synergy among response providers.

Both initiatives are in direct response to the Department of the Air Force report on interpersonal violence published in 2021 and the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military recommendations with initial feedback showing improvement in support for survivors as they navigate reporting options and available resources.

"Leaders at every level must stand ready to listen and provide the support and resources our Guardians and their families deserve," said Chief of Space Operations Gen. Chance Saltzman. "The Space Force is strongest when our Guardians and families thrive."

Additional actions being taken to improve victim response and support programs include:

  • Growing the number of special agents in the Office of Special Investigations solely dedicated to investigating allegations of interpersonal violence
    • Hiring 86 additional OSI personnel and improving training for all who investigate violent crimes, to include domestic violence
    • Establishing a violent crime career track and increasing investigative interview instruction time for agents focused on these crimes to ensure the most experienced investigators are working on domestic violence cases
  • Assigning sole authority to decide whether to court martial domestic violence offenders to the Office of Special Trial Counsel
    • The office reports directly to the Secretary of the Air Force independently of the command reporting structure and has a staff of expert military litigators with experience prosecuting domestic violence and other serious crimes.
    • The office will streamline the investigation and trial process, decrease case processing times, ensure experts in domestic violence investigate allegations immediately after an offense is reported, and prosecute the cases where appropriate leveraging expertise from specialized legal, law enforcement and prevention leaders.
  • Improving the transitional compensation for abused dependents application process
    • Providing economic support, medical and on-base shopping privileges to eligible survivors of domestic violence
    • More information can be found here
  • Establishing an electronic system that allows Domestic Abuse Violence Advocates to maintain records longer to better track and identify situations of repeated domestic abuse
    • Because domestic violence is now a separately enumerated offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, courts-martial penalties for assaults involving a spouse, intimate partner, or immediate family member can be increased and the department can more accurately track the frequency and nature of these criminal incidents.

Eligible domestic violence victims are also now assigned a victim's counsel (lawyer), which will ensure they receive privileged, confidential legal advice and other legal assistance and support services.

"The core values of the Air Force and Space Force demand a commitment to character and integrity," Kendall said. "Our responsibility as leaders requires us to fully support survivors and sustain their trust in all of our actions."

Kendall’s letter to the DAF announcing the cross-functional review can be read here.