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Summer 2003

The Defense Task Force on Domestic Violence:
Interview with Debby Tucker

By Lynn Levey

The Defense Domestic Violence Task Force was established by The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2000 (P.L. 106-65).  The Task Force, comprised of twelve civilians and twelve military members, addresses the Armed Forcesí response to partner abuse between married people.  The Task Force crafted a series of recommendations to improve victim services and batterer accountability.  Their third and final report, including its 200 recommendations, has just been published  (www.dtic.mil/domesticviolence).  In particular, the report demands a culture shift that:

  • Does not tolerate domestic violence;

  • Moves from victims holding offenders accountable to the system holding offenders accountable; and

  • Punishes criminal behavior. 

On May 8, Lynn Levey of the National Center for State Courts interviewed Debby Tucker, Co-Chair of the Defense Task Force on Domestic Violence.  The following excerpt summarizes the accomplishments of the task force and the role of civilian state courts. 

LL:  What are the key accomplishments of the Domestic Violence Task Force? 

DT:  When we began there was a lot of fear and trepidation on both sides about working together effectively.  But over time, our admiration and understanding of one another grew.  In addition to the Core principles and recommendations listed in the full report, one particular achievement was to build respect and trust between the military and civilian populations.  Remember, when the military established its Family Advocacy Programs (FAPs) twenty years ago (still in existence today), its elements were very progressive.  Over time however, this program did not adjust according to the changing needs and issues of the population it serves.  So while the civilian battered womenís movement expanded and gained more partners and different perspectives, its vision of what needed to happen changed too.  Without the influx of newer ideas, the FAP program stayed the same while the rest of the civilian world changed its response to intimate partner violence.  By the same token, we donít expect or want these new recommendations to be adopted and remain frozen in place.  Rather, there needs to be an ongoing, evolutionary process.  This is why the core principles are so important.  Core Principles that military installations need to incorporate in their response to violence between married people include:

  • Respond to the needs of victims and provide for their safety

  • Hold offenders accountable

  • Consider multi-cultural and cross-cultural factors

  • Consider the context of the violence and provide a measured response

  • Coordinate military and civilian response

  • Involve victims in monitoring domestic violence services

  • Provide early intervention

LL:  What kind of information did you learn that is particularly relevant and useful to state courts? 

DT: Historically, when a military member appeared in state court on abuse charges that occurred off base, his Commander would appear and assure the Court that the Command would take care of things at the military level.  We donít recommend turning over a criminal defendant to his supervisor because there is the sense that to do this is to desert the victim.  The civilian side has seldom learned of any sanctions imposed against the military member.  Today, if the civilian courts turn over someone to the military they need to know what is likely to occur at that level instead of just handing it back to the Command to reduce their own docket.  If an offense occurs in a local community that involves local law enforcement and courts, these cases should be treated like other civilian cases.  Or alternatively, the civilian courts should not turn military cases over to the Command without knowing what kind of disposition awaits the defendant.  Reports would be sent to both civilian and military populations.  For example, if local law enforcement is called to the house again, there would be a record in local courts of terms of an order of protection.   

Studies show that 70 percent of military families reside off base; therefore, a high percentage of domestic violence crimes committed by military personnel will come to the attention of civilian authorities.  This underscores the need for better communication between civilian and military entities so that batterers are not able to exploit gaps for their own gain.  There is a need for better coordination.  In communities where the civilian response is swift and appropriate, we would like to see the military adopt those standards too. 

Suppose there is a town where the military dominates the local economy.  The local community might think it wise not to rock the boat and allow the military to handle its family violence matters on its own.  Yet by insisting on thoughtful Command decisions, there will be a concomitant improvement in how both communities respond (thereby improving batterer accountability and victim safety). 

LL:  There has been a lot of attention in the civilian court community these last few years on Full Faith and Credit as it relates to the Violence Against Women Act.  On December 2, 2002 the Armed Forces Domestic Security Act became law (P.L. 107-311).  In summary, this Act declares that a civilian order of protection shall have the same force and effect on a military installation as such an order has within the jurisdiction of the court that issued the order.  The Secretary of Defense must now establish protocols to implement this statute.  Any idea when this is slated to happen? 

DT: Although we are still waiting for the Secretary of Defense to issue implementation protocols, it isnít necessary to wait until that time for state courts and military installations to begin discussions around how they intend to collaborate.  Dialogues between state and local court administrators can begin the process.  Some states may not even be aware that this law exists.  It is an opportunity to improve the collaboration process.   

LL: Does one particular branch seem to be in a better position to implement practices that you recommend?  If so, what makes that the case? 

DT:  First itís important to realize that there are a total of 300 installations worldwide.  The style and organizational culture of the branches (Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines) differ greatly.  The smallest and it would seem the easiest in which to make systematic changes is the Marine Corps because they have just nineteen bases.  This gives them greater potential to adopt a universal culture change throughout the ranks more easily.  From this vantage point, the Army might be the most challenged as they have the largest number of installations worldwide. 

LL:  Are there plans to utilize a data system to track incidents of domestic violence between married people?  Orders of protection?  Other items?

DT:  There are plans to establish a searchable database for personnel working with either the victim or perpetrator.  For example if law enforcement responds to an incident of domestic violence, professionals who interact with involved parties will record their information in one place that is accessible to all professionals.  Plans are underway to adopt the Domestic Incident Based Reporting System (DIBRS) soon; however, this has been impeded by out of date computer systems. 

LL:  What didnít I ask you that you want to tell me about? 

DT:  Well, first Iíd like to invite folks to review the report and the companion CD.  We are expecting a great deal of leadership from the state courts in working with the bases.  Mutual respect has to be built.  It is very important that local service providers are brought to the table early on to assist with the development of protocols.  It is also important to recognize that many people in both the civilian and military world are not going to access services through the justice system.  That should not, however, preclude them from receiving services more generally.  Itís vital to have the domestic violence programs input because court administrators and base commanders might unknowingly adopt protocols that jeopardize victim safety.  We need to respond better to sexual violence and how it and partner violence effect children.  Overall, I see this as a chance to inspire another big step forward for the whole movement. 
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