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Abuse is Abuse, Even in the Military
June 23, 1994

I am glad that Sen. William Cohen in his hearing Monday in Bangor on Fighting Family Violence is bringing attention to a topic which has too often been swept under the rug.

However, I feel I must challenge Sen. Cohen's statements contained in a front page Bangor Daily News article last month, in which he linked the closure of military bases with an increase in service-connected family violence.

When the article first came out (May 21-22), I was puzzled. Military families are transferred frequently. Why would a transfer from a closing military base be any more traumatic or stressful than a transfer from a military base which is remaining open?

My office called Sen. Cohen's office to get the supporting documentation for his claim. The two pages of data faxed to us were revealing – not in what they said, but in what they did not say.

The two pages were of raw annual rates of ''total spouse maltreatment cases and rates,'' ''total child maltreatment cases and rates,'' along with statistics on substantiated cases. And while the rates do climb alarmingly over the past five years, there was absolutely no data in those statistics linking the incidences to base closures.

In fact, there was no geographical data at all.

In the information released by Sen. Cohen's office in support of his statements, there is no comparison of statistics between non-closing bases and closing bases, and no data suggesting other possibilities for stress, such as the Persian Gulf War.

While I think it is entirely appropriate to highlight the growing problem of domestic abuse in our military population, I think it was irresponsible for the senator to make the leap he made which, according to information supplied by his office, is not supported by the facts available to him.

What concerns me in this situation is that pointing without substantiation to a temporary situation (the closing of military bases) as a cause for an increase in domestic violence will deflect attention from the real reason for the rise in those numbers.

In my plain, common-sense opinion, (and I will admit up-front that I have no statistics to back me up on this) the real reason for the rise in domestic violence among military families is that the military which so wonderfully trains its personnel in violent conflict resolution has not put the same effort into teaching non-violent conflict resolution.

It can, it should, and it must.

For generations, mothers and fathers have sent their sons into the military ''to make a man out of them.'' It is time we recognized that real men know how to control themselves, and not only in the face of direct orders from a commanding officer.

It is time we taught our military personnel that real men do not need to abuse other people.

It is time we taught our military personnel that violence is only appropriate in very rare, carefully directed circumstances to forestall a greater harm – and never appropriate at home.

It is time we taught our military personnel to respect other people, even women and children – even gays and lesbians.

Much of the discussion at Monday's hearing was about education – educating medical personnel to recognize the signs and to ask the right questions, teaching women how to safely leave abusive situations, training people associated with the police and the courts on how to walk the victims through the process.

Hardly any mention was made of teaching our young men (who predominate in these situations) that abuse – physical, emotional or sexual – is wrong, and will not be tolerated. The imbalance was glaring, and frustrating.

It was yet another example of crisis management, cleaning up the mess after it exists, rather than going to the source and stopping it there.

Our schools and the military are the two logical places for the non-violent message to be pounded home to our young people. We need to teach people not to be abusive, and we need to teach people not to put up with abuse.

We have the means, and the ability, to do it. We just need the societal will.

Do we have that will? The answer lies within each of us.

Yes, I am talking about changing a culture. Isn't it about time we did?

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